Strong evidence for intermediate-mass black hole in Omega Centauri | Science & Technology

Most known black holes are either extremely massive, like the supermassive black holes that lie at the cores of large galaxies, or relatively lightweight, with a mass of under 100 times that of the Sun. Intermediate-mass black holes (IMBHs) are scarce, however, and are considered rare “missing links” in black hole evolution.

Now, an international team of astronomers has used more than 500 images from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope — spanning two decades of observations — to search for evidence of an intermediate-mass black hole by following the motion of seven fast-moving stars in the innermost region of the globular star cluster Omega Centauri.

These stars provide new compelling evidence for the presence of the gravitational pull from an intermediate-mass black hole tugging on them. Only a few other IMBH candidates have been found to date.

Omega Centauri consists of roughly 10 million stars that are gravitationally bound. The cluster is about 10 times as massive as other big globular clusters — almost as massive as a small galaxy.

Among the many questions scientists want to answer: Are there any IMBHs, and if so, how common are they? Does a supermassive black hole grow from an IMBH? How do IMBHs themselves form? Are dense star clusters their favored home?

The astronomers have now created an enormous catalog for the motions of these stars, measuring the velocities for 1.4 million stars gleaned from the Hubble images of the cluster. Most of these observations were intended to calibrate Hubble’s instruments rather than for scientific use, but they turned out to be an ideal database for the team’s research efforts.

“We discovered seven stars that should not be there,” explained Maximilian Häberle of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany, who led this investigation. “They are moving so fast that they would escape the cluster and never come back. The most likely explanation is that a very massive object is gravitationally pulling on these stars and…

Source www.sciencedaily.com

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