Black holes are powerful, whirling maelstroms that can have a mass billions of times that of our sun. (Photo : Wikimedia Commons)
It wasn't too long ago that scientists formally identified the first middleweight black hole. It wasn't supermassive, and it wasn't small, it was right in the middle - something that astronomers had not found until then. Now, as research builds on the confirmation of its existence, scientists have developed a new model that could explain the way these black holes are formed.
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By figuring out how exactly these middleweight black holes are formed, astronomers can then know where to look for these elusive cosmic objects.
"We know about small black holes, which tend to be close to us and have masses a few to 10 times that of our Sun, and we know about supermassive black holes, which are found in the centers of galaxies and have a mass that's millions to billions of times the mass of the sun," said co-author of the paper Saavik Ford, a research associate in the Department of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History.
"Intermediate-mass black holes are much harder to find."
A middleweight black hole would have to begin out as a low-mass, stellar black hole, and then feed on stars until it grows. The problem is, most of space is empty, and getting the amount of stars needed to reach intermediate weight can be difficult.
Instead, the model proposes that middleweight black holes form in the giant gas disks that surround supermassive black holes which are in the center of galaxies. A small black hole that forms from a collapsing star in the gas disk would have access to all the other stars pulled in close by the supermassive black hole. This would give it the proper food it needs to grow.
"The recent focus had been on star clusters, but objects there move very quickly and there's no gas, which makes the chances of a collision very slim," said Barry McKernan, a research associate in the Museum's Department of Astrophysics.
With any luck, astronomers could soon begin seeing more of this rare phenomenon.
The idea for the model came from the scaled down version of how giant gas planets such as Saturn and Jupiter form. Instead of gas disks around black holes, they are believed to form in gas disks around stars.