Scientists witnessed a rare and hard-to-observe phenomenon – an intermediate-mass black hole devouring a star. The observations were made by a team of astronomers using the data gathered by the ESA’s XMM-Newton observatory, the NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory, and Swift X-Ray Telescope.
In the Universe, there are supermassive black holes, usually possessing millions or billions of solar masses and lying the center of the big galaxies, and stellar-mass black holes, commonly created by stars when they die. Right between these black holes types, there is the intermediate-mass black hole which is believed to be the primordial stage of a supermassive black hole.
What makes these medium-sized black holes unique for astronomers is that they are hard to observe. Thus, the astronomers found only a few candidates for this classification.
In fact, the recently discovered intermediate-mass black hole is the best candidate for its category.
ESA’s XMM-Newton observatory detected an intermediate-mass black devouring a star
“This is incredibly exciting: this type of black hole hasn’t been spotted so clearly before. A few candidates have been found, but on the whole, they’re extremely rare and very sought after. This is the best intermediate-mass black hole candidate observed so far, affirms Dacheng Lin, a researcher at the University of New Hampshire, USA, and the leading scientists for this study.
Scientists don’t have a clear understanding of how this type of black holes form but, in theory, an intermediate-mass black hole might form when two massive stars within dense star clusters merge. According to this hypothesis, the best place to search for a medium-sized black hole is in the center of these clusters. But, given the way they form, these black holes are quickly remaining without any matter to absorb. Therefore, medium-sized black holes do not emit strong radiation signals and are hard to observe for this reason.
“One of the few methods we can use to try to find an intermediate-mass black hole is to wait for a star to pass close to it and become disrupted,” said Dacheng Lin, and this is precisely how the astronomers spotted this black hole.
Using the ESA’s XMM-Newton observatory, the NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory, and Swift X-Ray Telescope, the astronomers detected and captured an intermediate-mass black hole devouring a star.