Scientists are reeling after a team of astronomers from Ohio State University published a paper in Science which detailed the discovery of a black hole in space, one substantially smaller than was previously thought possible. In fact, it is so small that an entirely new subset of the mysterious scientific phenomenon might have to be created.
“We’re showing this hint that there is another population out there that we have yet to really probe in the search for black holes,” said Todd Thompson, a professor of astronomy at Ohio State University and lead author of the study, via Phys.org.
Thompson said that his interest was first piqued about the possibility of smaller black holes when he noticed the discrepancy between the size of neutron stars and black holes. These two objects are similar in that they are the remnants of dead stars.
Whether a star turned into a neutron star or black hole after its supernova explosion is dependent on its mass. Neutron stars are only two to two-and-a-half times the mass of the sun — any larger, and it collapses in on itself to become a black hole.
However, scientists had long held that the smallest black hole would be at least five times the mass of the sun. Thompson turned his attention to what happened to dead stars that fit in the three-to-five solar mass category.
To see if he could find such an example, Thompson and his team went through 100,000 different stars collected in the database from the Apache Point Observatory Galactic Evolution Experiment, known as APOGEE.
Soon, he and his team found a giant red star that appeared to be orbiting something in the Milky Way, one that seemed to have a gravitational pull suggesting it would fit the bill. At 3.3 solar masses, it was too large to be a neutron star, so the researchers believed that it must be a black hole.
More calculations and additional data from the Tillinghast Reflector Echelle Spectrograph and the Gaia satellite confirmed their hypothesis.
The team is not just excited about finding something new, but also about its implications on the future of black hole studies.
“What we’ve done here is come up with a new way to search for black holes, but we’ve also potentially identified one of the first of a new class of low-mass black holes that astronomers hadn’t previously known about,” Thompson said.
“The masses of things tell us about their formation and evolution, and they tell us about their nature.”
In other news on black holes, The Inquisitr reported that scientists believe that the black hole in the center of our galaxy could be a wormhole, making for a science-fiction-like discovery.