This time, they discovered a black hole of intermediate mass, that is, approximately 50 thousand times the mass of the Sun. The announcement comes from the University of Melbourne, Australia, in an article published in the renowned Nature Astronomy and led by James Paynter.
The technique is innovative. We know that, with some frequency, we can observe explosions of gamma rays in the universe, which often come from objects at enormous distances.
According to Einstein’s theory of relativity, when passing close to a massive body, the gamma radiation of this explosion could be deflected, curved. And if the body is dense enough, the curvature is so strong that a ray passing through opposite sides of that body could be deflected to the same point, as if there were a gigantic lens at that point. It is the so-called gravitational lens effect, also well known and studied in astronomy.
The cat’s leap in this case is that the path taken by the radiation can be a little longer along one path than the other. Thus, when the gamma-ray surge arrives on Earth, after traveling for billions of years, we can actually observe two pulses, with a short delay of 0.4 seconds between them.
All things considered, this delay corresponds (probably) to a black hole of 55 thousand times the mass of the Sun.
This mass is the likely missing link in black holes. As in the story of Goldilocks, neither too big nor too small.
This is important because this type of black hole has never been seen definitively. We do know small black holes, with masses similar to that of the Sun, which formed at the end of the life of a particularly large and bright star, after the explosion of a supernova.
We also know about supermassive black holes, with masses of millions or billions of times that of our Sun, which reside in the center of galaxies. Our own Milky Way is home to a black hole of the type.
However, we still do not know how these giant black holes formed. It may have been from smaller black holes, it could be a region with dark matter that attracted a huge amount of gas at the beginning of the universe that collapsed and formed the giant black hole in one go.
In any case, if the result is confirmed, it is an excellent opportunity for those working in this area. Like the discovery of a fossil of a human ancestor, detailed observation of that object would allow the study and investigation of the early stages of supermassive black holes, before they become, well, supermassives.
I would say that we cannot yet be sure that this is the case. But science works like this: a good discovery opens the door to dozens of other studies and research.
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