Black holes are sometimes huge â€“ supermassive as they are called, billions of times the mass of our sun. Other times they are petite with just a few times the sun’s mass. But do black holes also come in size medium? A new study suggests that, most likely, the answer is no. Astronomers have long suspected that the best place to find a medium-mass black hole would be at the core of a miniature galaxy-like object called a globular cluster. Yet nobody has been able to find one conclusively. And now, a team of astronomers has thoroughly examined a globular cluster called RZ2109 and determined that it cannot possess a medium black hole, leading researchers to believe that black holes don’t come in medium, or at most are very rare.
“Some theories say that small black holes in globular clusters should sink down to the center and form a medium-sized one, but our discovery suggests this isn’t true,” said Daniel Stern of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Stern is second author of a study detailing the findings in the Aug. 20 issue of Astrophysical Journal. The lead author is Stephen Zepf of Michigan State University, East Lansing.
Black holes are incredibly dense points of matter, whose gravity prevents even light from escaping. The least massive black holes known are about 10 times the mass of the sun and form when massive stars blow up in supernova explosions. The heftiest black holes are up to billions of times the mass of the sun and lie deep in the bellies of almost all galaxies.
That leaves black holes of intermediate mass, which were thought to be buried at the cores of globular clusters. Globular clusters are dense collections of millions of stars, which reside within galaxies containing hundreds of billions of stars. Theorists argue that a globular cluster should have a scaled down version of a galactic black hole. Such objects would be about 1,000 to 10,000 times the mass of the sun, or medium in size on the universal scale of black holes.
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The research team used the Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea in Hawaii to look at the spectrum of the cluster, which revealed that the black hole is petite, with roughly 10 times the mass of our sun.
According to theory, a cluster with a small black hole cannot have a medium one, too. Medium black holes would be quite hefty with a lot of gravity, so if one did exist in a globular cluster, scientists argue that it would quickly drag any small black holes into its grasp.
“If a medium black hole existed in a cluster, it would either swallow little black holes or kick them out of the cluster,” said Stern. In other words, the small black hole in RZ2109 rules out the possibility of a medium one.
The researchers believe other globular clusters would have a similar makeup and the likelihood for finding a medium black hole is not good. Zepf said it is possible such objects are hiding in the outskirts and of galaxies like our Milky Way, either in surrounding so-called dwarf galaxies or in the remnants of dwarf galaxies being swallowed by a bigger galaxy. If so, the black holes would be faint and difficult to find.
News Source: JPL