Scientists may have discovered the missing link to understanding black hole evolution. With the help of the NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) Network the team identified an interesting object which they named NGC 2276-3c, located in one of the arms of the spiral galaxy NGC 2276, situated about 100 million light-years from Earth.
The NGC 2276 is considered an “intermediate-mass black hole” (IMBH) with masses ranging between a few hundreds to a few hundred thousand Suns. A representative of this class has been sought for many years but up until now, never observed. Tim Roberts of the University of Durham in U.K. explained how “astronomers have been looking very hard for these medium-sized black holes” but that “the IMBHs have been acting like a long-lost relative that isn’t interested in being found.”
The other two categories have been known for a while. There are smaller black holes, with a mass ranging between five and 30 Suns while supermassive black holes, found at the center of galaxies, bear a mass equal to that of millions or even billions Suns.
The discovery of the NGC 2276 is important as these types of black holes could be the origin from which supermassive black holes stem.
Mar Mezcua from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts and also the study’s lead author explained how:
“In paleontology, the discovery of certain fossils can help scientists fill in the evolutionary gaps between different dinosaurs. We do the same thing in astronomy, but we often have to ‘dig’ up our discoveries in galaxies that are millions of light-years away”.
The team used the Chandra X-ray Observatory simultaneously with the VLBI Network to calculate the mass of the NGC 2276-3c. Calculations showed a mass close to 50,000 times that of the Sun, thus placing it in the intermediate category.
The next step for the researchers is to determine whether this newly discovered black hole had the same location from the beginning or if it “migrated” as a result of various events. One theory says that it could have formed within a dwarf galaxy and later merged with the NGC 2276.
Scientists are hoping this discovery will help them understand how these cosmic objects develop and grow to become supermassive black holes.
Image Source: Huffington Post