A black hole hidden within a star cluster has been confirmed as one of the only known 'intermediate-mass black holes,' the first time scientists have found direct evidence of one of the objects.
The black hole, which was found in star cluster B023-G078 in the Andromeda galaxy, was originally thought to be the remnants of a previous star, but has since been revealed to be the remains of smaller galaxies that collapsed into a larger one.
Anil Seth, co-author of a study on the black hole and associate professor of astronomy at the University of Utah, explained the finding 'fills the gap' between two previously known types of black holes.
'We have very good detections of the biggest, stellar-mass black holes up to 100 times the size of our sun, and supermassive black holes at the centres of galaxies that are millions of times the size of our sun, but there aren’t any measurements of black between these,' he said. 'That’s a large gap.'
Scientists have been searching for evidence of this type of lower mass 'stripped nuclei' black hole for decades, but had never found one, until now.
'The stellar velocities we are getting gives us direct evidence that there’s some kind of dark mass right at the center,' explained lead author Renuka Pechetti, per The Independent. 'It’s very hard for globular clusters to form big black holes. But if it’s in a stripped nucleus, then there must already be a black hole present, left as a remnant from the smaller galaxy that fell into the bigger one.'
Researchers made the discovery using data from the Hubble Telescope and and the Gemini Observatory, through which they were able to model the object's light profile in order to determine its mass.
'Previously, we’ve found big black holes within massive, stripped nuclei that are much bigger than B023-G078. We knew that there must be smaller black holes in lower mass stripped nuclei, but there’s never been direct evidence,' Pechetti said. 'I think this is a pretty clear case that we have finally found one of these objects.'
Findings from the study were published earlier this month in The Astrophysical Journal.
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