It could be a rare "intermediate-mass" black hole, and it's closer to Earth than you think.
Black holes have fascinated astronomers for generations, and continued research has revealed some truly magnificent truths about the Universe’s ultimate dead-end. According to a report from Discovery News, a team of Japanese scientists have made a stunning find – the second most supermassive black hole in our galaxy, the Milky Way.
Unlike many other black holes that have been discovered by astronomers by searching for its radio signature, a team from the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, or NAOJ, first spotted the whirlwind of gases locked up in the black hole’s powerful gravitational pull. The discovery paves the way for a method for detecting rare “intermediate-mass” black holes.
Scientists used the Nobeyama 45-meter Radio Telescope, operated by the NAOJ, to spy the supermassive black hole which sits only 200 light-years away from the Milky Way’s other supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A*. They traced the gas being emitted from a massive cloud called “CO-0.40-0.22” and noticed a wide range of velocities depending on where it was observed.
Researchers were slightly puzzled by the presence of the black hole, because they did not detect a supernova or any other high-energy event that would precipitate the formation of such a black hole. By running complex computer models, the astronomers were able to determine that the center of the supermassive black hole exists in the “eye” of the massive gas storm.
By some estimates, the black hole could be 100,000 times the mass of our own sun. It is the second largest such black hole in the galaxy, coming in after Sagittarius A*, which weighs a whopping 4 million times that of the sun.
Accoridng to Tomoharu Oka, the lead author of the study and a researcher from Keio University in Japan, “Considering the fact that no compact objects are seen in X-ray or infrared observations, as far as we know, the best candidate for the compact massive object is a black hole.”
Scientists have never observed an intermediate-mass black hole before, and the discovery provides a unique research opportunity. By studying the object, scientists could lay out a method for detecting black holes throughout the galaxy and the entire universe. Some believe that the Milky Way alone contains more than 100 million.
A press release from the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan describing the recent study’s details can be found here.