A mid-size black hole-called the “missing link” in understanding such celestial brutes-has been found by scientists, eviscerating an unfortunate star that strayed too close.
Using observations from the Hubble Space Telescope and two X-ray observatories, the researchers determined that this black hole is more than 50,000 times the mass of our sun and located 740 million lightyears from Earth in a dwarf galaxy, one with even fewer stars than our Milky Way.
Black holes are incredibly dense objects which have such strong gravitational forces that not even light can escape.
This is one of the few ever known “intermediate-mass” black holes, being far smaller than the supermassive black holes that exist in the core of vast galaxies but much larger than the so-called stellar-mass black holes created by the collapse of massive individual stars.
We verified that an object we discovered in 2010 was indeed an intermediate-mass black hole that tore apart and swallowed a passing star,” astrophysicist Natalie Webb, a co-author of the study published this week in Astrophysical Journal Letters, told the University of Toulouse.
The star was possibly around a third of the sun’s mass, Webb said.
Webb said scientists have been searching for four decades of intermediate-mass black holes, and less than 10 good examples are identified, but there may be significant numbers.
“It’s really important therefore to find a new one. A black hole swallowing a star often happens in any given galaxy on average just once every 10,000 years or so, so these are unusual occurrences, “Webb added.
The supermassive black hole at Milky Way’s core is 4 million times the sun’s mass and located 26,000 light-years from Earth. The closest black star with stellar mass is about 6,000 light-years from Earth. A light-year is the distance light which travels 5.9 trillion miles (9.5 trillion km) in a year.
In understanding the spectrum of black holes, Webb called intermediate-mass black holes the “missing link” Scientists know how black holes of stellar mass-about three to 100 times our sun’s mass-shape. They don’t know how black holes form intermediate-mass but assume that supermassive black holes emerge from their mid-size brethren.
It was difficult to test this hypothesis, without having these objects,” Webb said.
Black holes of intermediate-mass have been elusive.
“The best explanation is that they are mainly in a gas-free environment, leaving the black holes with little material to absorb, and therefore no radiation to emit-which in effect makes them extremely difficult to detect,” said astronomer and study lead author Dacheng Lin at the University of New Hampshire.
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