Black hole discovered hiding behind gas cloud in the depths of the galaxy

Scientists say searching for strange movements in space gas clouds will help in hunt for more of these mysterious objects

Josh Gabbatiss
Science Correspondent
Sunday 03 March 2019 12:28
Comments
Supermassive black holes reveal universe is expanding faster than previously thought

A black hole has been identified hiding in the depths of space after scientists noticed its effects on a neighbouring cloud of gas.

There are thought to be over 100 million of these mysterious objects lurking across the galaxy, but they are difficult to spot because they do not emit any light.

This makes it tricky for scientists to verify their existence, but by looking for the effects of their gravity on other objects it is possible to pinpoint them.

A team led by Dr Shunya Takekawa at the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan realised a gas cloud around 25,000 years away from Earth was moving strangely.

To understand what was going on, they employed the ALMA observatory in Chile to zoom in on the cloud and realised it was swirling around an invisible object near the centre of the galaxy.

The scientists found that an enormous mass around 30,000 times greater than the sun was the cause of this unusual motion.

“This and the lack of any observed object at that location strongly suggests an intermediate-mass black hole,” said Dr Takekawa.

“By analysing other anomalous clouds, we hope to expose other quiet black holes.”

Black holes can be relatively small, around five times the mass of the sun, or they can be supermassive – meaning they are millions of times more massive than the sun.

While astronomers think smaller holes group together to form medium-sized ones of the variety observed by Dr Takekawa and his team, it has been difficult to find evidence of these intermediate black holes.

The team hopes that by looking out for more strange movements in distant gas clouds, they will be able to successfully hunt for more black holes.

Support free-thinking journalism and attend Independent events

Professor Tomoharu Oka of Keio University, who co-led the team, said it was notable that the intermediate black hole they discovered was a mere 20 light years away from the supermassive black hole known to exist at the galactic centre.

“In the future, it will fall into the supermassive black hole, much like gas is currently falling into it. This supports the merger model of black hole growth,” he said.

The group’s results were published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in