By Bruce Dorminey
The Hubble Space Telescope has detected the best-ever candidate for an intermediate- mass black hole (IMBH) —- a medium-sized black hole some 50,000 times the mass of our Sun in the act of gobbling up a passing star. If this discovery holds, it will provide astrophysicists with the long-sought after missing link in theories of black hole evolution.
Stellar mass black holes and supermassive black holes have been detected and are relatively well understood. Our own Milky Way galaxy has a relatively quiescent supermassive black hole at its galactic center. But intermediate-mass black holes represent an astrophysical puzzle. Researchers are still questioning how these IMBHs actually assemble and whether they are the building blocks of super massive black holes.
Hubble honed in on the putative IMBH identified by its x-ray moniker 3XMMJ215022.4−055108 inside the star cluster that it calls home. Astrophysicist Dacheng Lin of the University of New Hampshire in Durham and colleagues have just published their analysis of the observations in The Astrophysical Journal Letters. The authors note that the object is “best explained as the tidal disruption of a star by an intermediate-mass black hole in a massive star cluster at the outskirts of a large barred, lenticular galaxy.”
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