A team of space scientists led by UNH Space Science Center research assistant professor Dacheng Lin discovered an elusive intermediate mass black hole when the researchers spied it (thanks to a trio of orbiting X ray telescopes) chowing down on a star that wandered into its gravitational eld. In June, Lin and his colleagues published a paper in Nature Astronomy that provides the strongest evidence to date that these middle-of-the-road black holes do exist.
“We feel very lucky to have spotted this object with a significant amount of high-quality data, which helps us pinpoint the mass of the black hole and understand the nature of this spectacular event,” Lin says.
The researchers worked hard to find mid-sized black holes because confirmation of their existence is important in astrophysics; this discovery implies there are many more. “But there are very, very few that we know of,” Lin says, “because they are normally unbelievably quiet and very hard to detect, and energy bursts from encountering stars being shredded happen so rarely.”