Strange black holes spotted in space, evidence suggests

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Representational Image
Representational Image

New Delhi : The sky has lots of rare heavenly objects in its store to surprise researchers every now and then. Researchers from the University of New Hampshire in the US found evidences that black holes exist, by serendipitously capturing one in action gulping down a star.

"We feel very lucky to have spotted this object with a significant amount of high-quality data, which helps pinpoint the mass of the black hole and understand the nature of this spectacular event," said Dacheng Lin, a research assistant professor at UNH.

"Earlier research, including our own work, saw similar events, but they were either caught too late or were too far away," Lin said.

During the study researchers used satellite imaging to detect for the first time this significant telltale sign of activity. They found a huge multi wavelength radiation blaze from the outskirts of a distant galaxy. The brightness of the flame decayed over time exactly as expected by a star disrupting, or being devoured, by the black hole.

In this case, the star was disturbed in October 2003 and the radiation it created faded over the next decade. Experts say that the distribution of emitted photons over the energy depends on the size of the black hole.

This data collected provides one of the very powerful ways to weight, or determine the size of, the black hole.

Researchers used data from a trio of orbiting X-ray telescopes, NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and Swift Satellite as well as European Space Agency (ESA)'s XMM-Newton, to find the multiwavelength radiation flares that helped to identify the uncommon IMBHs.

The feature of a long flare offers evidence of a star being torn apart and is known as a tidal disruption event (TDE).

Scientists say that tidal forces, due to the intense gravity from the black hole, can destroy an object - such as a star that is too close to it. During a TDE, some of the stellar debris is flung outward at high speeds, while the rest falls toward the black hole.

As it travels in innermost circle and is ingested by the black hole, the material heats up to millions of degrees and generates a distinct X-ray flare.

According to the researchers, these types of flares can easily reach the maximum luminosity and are one of the most effective ways to detect IMBHs.

"From the theory of galaxy formation, we expect a lot of wandering intermediate-mass black holes in star clusters," said Lin.

"But there are very, very few that we know of because they are normally unbelievably quiet and very hard to detect and energy bursts from encountering stars being shredded happen so rarely," he said.

Due to the very low happening rate of such star, triggered outbursts for an IMBH, the scientists believe that their discovery implies that there could be many IMBHs loitering in a dormant state in galaxy edges across the universe.