Astronomers Unearthed a "Goldilocks" Black Hole That Is 55,000 Times the Mass of the Sun

There's only been one other discovery like this in history, according to a new study.

The mysteries of space never cease to amaze us, which is why we're constantly looking towards the galaxies for the next big discovery. Now, there's a new one to learn all about: University of Melbourne and Monash University researchers worked together on a joint study that was published in the journal Nature Astronomy, and it details their discovery of a "Goldilocks" black hole. This is only the second intermediate-mass black hole ever uncovered, and it comes quickly on the heels of the first, which happened only last year. Aptly named, in terms of size, the "Goldilocks" black hole falls right between the smallest and biggest black holes ever found, and it's actually a missing piece that connects two types of black holes: ones made from stars and giant ones at the center of a majority of galaxies.

black hole composite image from James Webb Space Telescope
Courtesy of NASA / NASA/CXC/SAO; Rolf Olsen; NASA/JPL-Caltech; NRAO/AUI/NSF/Univ.Hertfordshire/M.Hardcastle

This finding will help scientists figure out how massive black holes come about in the first place. "While we know that these supermassive black holes lurk in the cores of most, if not all galaxies, we don't understand how these behemoths are able to grow so large within the age of the Universe," James Paynter, a University of Melbourne lead author and PhD student, said.

A gravitationally lensed gamma-ray burst helped the team detect this black hole, which is actually 55,000 times the mass of the sun. They used software specifically created for finding black holes from gravitational waves to catch it. And the researchers are now able to understand more about this sight and its creation. "This newly discovered black hole could be an ancient relic—a primordial black hole—created in the early Universe before the first stars and galaxies formed," said Professor Eric Thran, a study co-author from the Monash University School of Physics and Astronomy and chief investigator for the ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery (OzGrav).

"These early black holes may be the seeds of the supermassive black holes that live in the hearts of galaxies today." Professor Rachel Webster, the study co-author and gravitational lensing pioneer from the University of Melbourne, said. "Using this new black hole candidate, we can estimate the total number of these objects in the Universe. We predicted that this might be possible 30 years ago, and it is exciting to have discovered a strong example."

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