Elusive black hole 50,000 times the mass of our sun found devouring a star

Astronomers say they have found an elusive black hole way out in deep space that’s devouring a nearby star.

The black hole is approximately 50,000 times the mass of our sun and is known as an intermediate-mass black holes.

These kinds of black holes are harder to spot but new data from the Hubble Space Telescope suggests it’s tucked away inside a dense star cluster.

Proof has been long-sought by scientists as the missing link in their understanding of black hole evolution.

They are difficult to uncover because they are smaller and less active than supermassive black holes, as well as having a weaker gravitational pull, meaning they can’t be easily spotted gobbling up other stars.

Astronomers were therefore left to wait for the rare moment one might tear apart a star that came too close. And that’s exactly what they’ve managed to find.

‘Intermediate-mass black holes are very elusive objects, and so it is critical to carefully consider and rule out alternative explanations for each candidate,’ said Dacheng Lin, principal investigator of the study, from the University of New Hampshire.

‘That is what Hubble has allowed us to do for our candidate.’

This particular medium black hole is 740 million light years away from Earth, scientists said in a paper published in Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The team were following up work from Nasa’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Space Agency’s X-ray Multi-Mirror Mission, after they spotted a powerful X-ray flare in 2006.

‘Adding further X-ray observations allowed us to understand the total energy output,’ said Natalie Webb, from the Universite de Toulouse in France.

‘This helps us to understand the type of star that was disrupted by the black hole.’

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

‘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 centres of massive galaxies came to exist,’ Webb added.

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