NASA Discovers ‘Cosmic Killer’ Black Hole That Could Be ‘Missing Link’
A team of scientists have discovered a ‘cosmic killer’ black hole thought to be a long-anticipated missing link, which holds the potential to unravel one of the great mysteries of our universe.
Believed to be an elusive intermediate-mass black hole (IMBH), the existence of which has yet to be decisively discovered, these findings are thought to provide a long-sought ‘missing link’ in black hole evolution.
At approximately 50,000 times the mass of the sun, the IMBH is said to be smaller than a supermassive black hole, which tips the scales at millions or even billions of solar masses, yet greater than those formed by stars collapsing.
This new research provides the most convincing and substantial evidence so far that such mid-sized black holes exist, with the black hole spotted after ‘committing’ what NASA has since referred to as a ‘cosmic homicide’.
According to findings published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, the object was spotted after it tore apart a star that had passed too close, alerting scientists to its existence.
Astronomers used two X-ray observatories – one from NASA and another from ESA – as well as the Hubble Space Telescope to observe the IMBH. After combining observations from all three satellites, the team were able to trace back the flare of X-rays to the likely source.
To the surprise of scientists, the flare had not originated from the centre of a galaxy, where a massive black hole would usually be found. This was the first indication that the star had been ripped apart by an IMBH.
When the Hubble Space Telescope pointed in the direction of the X-rays’ source, it appeared to be coming from a cluster of stars on the edge of another galaxy.
This indicated that the black hole was outside of our Milky Way, and was also located in precisely the sort of place astronomers speculated an IMBH would be.
Dacheng Lin from the University of New Hampshire, who was the principal investigator in the study, said:
Intermediate-mass black holes are very elusive objects, and so it is critical to carefully consider and rule out alternative explanations for each candidate. That is what Hubble has allowed us to do for our candidate.
Going forward, Lin and his team hope to build upon their work to address further mysteries, such as whether or not an IMBH can end up growing into a supermassive black hole.
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CreditsNASA and 1 other
The Astrophysical Journal Letters