According to astronomers, the object is difficult to detect, since the only way to find it is at the exact moment when it “devours” a star.
New data sent by the Hubble Space Telescope suggests the existence of a medium-sized black hole within a dense cluster of stars. The discovery of the intermediate-mass object was shared by NASA and ESA scientists in an article in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
50 thousand times the mass of the Sun
Black holes of intermediate-mass are smaller than supermassive, but larger than those of stellar mass, formed after the collapse of massive stars. According to experts, the black hole detected by Hubble has 50 thousand times the mass of the Sun.
“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,” said Dacheng Lin, leader of the study, in a statement.
Medium-sized black holes are particularly difficult to find because they are smaller and less active than supermassive black holes. They don’t have fuel readily available (celestial objects to “feed on”) and neither do they have a gravitational force strong enough to attract stars and other cosmic materials. Thus, the easiest way for astronomers to detect an object of this type is at the exact moment when it “devours” a neighboring star.
It was looking for evidence of this type of activity that Lin and his teammates analyzed the data sent by Hubble – and it worked. The experts believe that finding this intermediate-mass black hole will make it possible to discover more objects of the type.
With that in mind, the team plans to continue investigating data sent by Hubble and other telescopes in search of information that points to other medium-sized black holes. “Studying the origin and evolution of the intermediate-mass black holes will finally give an answer as to how the supermassive black holes that we find in the center of massive galaxies came to exist,” noted Natalie Webb, co-author of the study.