Artist impression of a black hole. If the discovery is confirmed, it could indicate that our galaxy has grown by cannibalizing its smaller neighbors.
The smallest black holes, stellar black holes, form when certain types of stars explode at the end of their life cycles, but scientists are unsure how supermassive black holes form.
Intermediate mass black holes are considered to be the missing link with respect to the cosmic objects. IMHBs have never been officially identified, though.
However, new research performed by a team of researchers from Keio University, Japan, has made a startling find. The researchers say they believe the discovery is a good candidate for an IMBH. Not at all like those that make up other interstellar mists, have the gasses in this cloud - including hydrogen cyanide and carbon monoxide - moved at fiercely different speeds. By carefully analysing the gas densities present in the cloud they concluded that it harboured a very large "compact object" that had to be a black hole.
Although it is well established they reside in seemingly all galaxies we do not know how they get so enormous. But there has been no direct evidence of an IMBH, so far.
It is too hard to see the black holes as they do not emit their light.
This compact dust cloud, which has been a source of fascination to astronomers for years, measures over 1000 AU in diameter and is located about 200 light-years from the center of our galaxy.
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Oka, whose exploration is distributed in the diary Nature Astronomy, said the recently discovered black hole could be the center of an old dwarf galaxy that was torn apart amid the arrangement of the Milky Way billions of years prior.
Even by astronomical standards, the gas cloud in question has a pretty boring name: CO-0.40-0.22. The researchers wanted to understand the peculiar movements of the cloud's gases.
"Numerical simulations around a point-like massive object reproduce the kinematics of dense molecular gas well, which suggests that CO-0.40-0.22* is one of the most promising candidates for an intermediate-mass black hole". Here we report the detection of a point-like continuum source as well as a compact gas clump near the centre of CO-0.40-0.22.
A large black hole has been discovered in the middle of our galaxy.
"The most exciting thing is the likelihood that intermediate mass black holes are real", Schawinski says.
The core of our galaxy houses a supermassive black hole that weighs in at over a million times our Sun's mass. What is unknown is how these supermassive black holes form.
In addition, identifying and studying IMBHs will expand the human understanding of the universe on a larger scale.
"Theoretical studies have predicted that 100 million to one billion black holes should exist in the Milky Way, although only 60 or so have been identified through observations so far", said the authors.
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