The discovery of a supermassive black hole at the center of our own Milky Way galaxy led to a Nobel Prize this year for Roger Penrose, Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez. The Associated Press reported that Penrose proved that black holes could exist, based on math. Genzel and Ghez determined there was a black hole in the middle of the galaxy that the planet Earth calls home.

The Nobel announcement made researchers at Montana State University smile. Yves Idzerda, dean of MSU's College of Letters and Science and a physicist said, "Everyone looks to the Nobel. The announcements remind people of how exciting the science research going on everywhere is, and MSU is involved in exactly that kind of research."

Black hole are stars that have collapsed on themselves, creating an object so dense that not even light can escape their gravity. They can grow by gobbling up other stars and even other black holes to become supermassive black holes, estimated to be over a billion times more massive than our Sun. A supermassive black hole is apparently at the center of the Milky Way. In fact, black holes are suspected to be in the middle of many galaxies in the universe. Amy Reines and researchers at the Bozeman, Montana, campus recently received a NASA grant this fall to study how those black holes began.

MSU has been studying such space sciences for quite a while. An MSU news release noted that Reines has been interested in black holes since she discovered one in graduate school. She said, in that news release, "It really peaked my interest in black holes because I recognized the significance of that discovery." The Montana State University study will concentrate on dwarf galaxies, which have smaller black holes, using data from NASA's space telescopes and other observatories. The project, funded by the "NASA Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research," (ESCoR) has a goal of finding out how small a galaxy can be and still have a supermassive black hole. The study includes researchers at the MSU Department of Physics and the Department of Mathematical Sciences, emphasizing graduate student researchers.

Co-investigators are Anne Lohfink and David Nidever of the Physics Department. Lohfink introduces students to black holes in her introductory astronomy class with a video called Mysteries of the Sky. She said, "I show it to highlight to them, "Look, this is something we can do."