Astronomers Find Best Evidence of 'Intermediate-Size' Black Hole

Rodiano Bonacci
Aprile 2, 2020

Scientists say that confirming one intermediate-mass black hole paves the way to the possibility of many others lurking undetected in the dark.

Scientists have unraveled an intergalactic murder mystery which gave them the best evidence yet for the existence of an extremely rare "intermediate-mass", black hole, considered the "missing link" in their evolution.

Observations made using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope revealed the burst was emanating from the edge of a lenticular galaxy. "That is what Hubble has allowed us to do for our candidate", Dacheng Lin, a research assistant professor at the University of New Hampshire and principal investigator of the new study, said in the statement.

Following leads from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and the ESA's X-ray Multi-Mirror Mission (XMM-Newton), the team enlisted the help of the eagle-eyed, master detective, the Hubble Space telescope, to track down the mysterious murderer.

The nature of the X-ray flare meant that it could be explained by just two scenarios, according to Dr Lin. "The reason why we can use the spectral fits to estimate the IMBH mass for our object is that its spectral evolution showed that it has been in the thermal spectral state, a state commonly seen and well understood in accreting stellar-mass black holes". Hubble's high-resolution imagery revealed that the black hole resides inside a dense star cluster far beyond the Milky Way galaxy, in the outskirts of another galaxy pictured at the center of this image.

However, the smaller black holes are known for not often emitting this glow - thus rendering them so elusive.

There is a region of space beyond the black hole called the event horizon.

But IMBHs remain hard to confirm as astronomers struggle to understand how supermassive black holes got so darn big, compared to stellar-sized black holes.

While matching the flashes that would be emitted when a star was being swallowed up by a black hole, the location of the X-ray was far outside of the galaxy's centre, where massive black holes are normally situated. But, they are smaller than the larger/supermassive black holes that lie at the core (s) of a larger galaxy (s) but are larger than the stellar-mass black holes formed by the collapse of a number of massive stars.

They do not have readily available sources of fuel, nor as strong a gravitational pull to draw stars and other cosmic material which would produce telltale X-ray glows, they said. Lin and his colleagues combed through the XMM-Newton data archive, searching hundreds of thousands of sources to find this one IMBH candidate.

Black holes are one of the most extreme environments humans are aware of, and so they are a testing ground for the laws of physics and our understanding of how the Universe works. That's exactly where an intermediate-sized black hole (IMBH) may lurk - at least, according to theory.

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