New kind of black hole near the heart of the Milky Way is 100,000 larger than the sun
A vast black hole has been discovered close to the heart of the Milky Way, veiled in an enormous cloud of swirling molecular gas.
Scientists have picked up signs that the black hole is one hundred thousand times larger than the sun, and pretty much on the galactic doorstep of the supermassive black hole – Sagittarius A* – which lies at the dead centre of our galaxy.
The observations were made by astronomers in Japan, who used the 45-metre Nobeyama radio telescope in Chile to investigate strange activity within a cloud of gas in the interior of the Milky Way. They noticed that the molecules in the elliptical cloud, built up of toxic gases including hydrogen cyanide and carbon monoxide, were being twisted and pulled by colossal gravitational forces.
The scientists believe this is because of a black hole measuring 1.4 trillion km; a theory that is backed up by observations from the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, which picked up radio waves associated with the presence of black holes at the heart of the cloud.
If confirmed, the phenomena will measure in as an intermediate-mass black hole; a potentially enlightening link between the small black holes, which are born when stars end their lives, and supermassive black holes, existing at the hearts of galaxies.
“This is the first detection of an intermediate-mass black hole candidate in the Milky Way galaxy,” said Tomoharu Oka, one of the astronomers at Keio University in Tokyo.
The presence of the mid-sized black hole so close to Sagittarius A* – a mere 200 light years away – could provide valuable fuel to the theory that smaller black holes drift towards the centre of the galaxy, coalescing into bigger black holes until they join the supermassive centre point. This new piece of research, published in Nature, suggests that the intermediate-mass black hole could be the core of a dwarf galaxy that was cannibalised at the same time as the formation of the Milky Way.
If this new black hole is indeed fated to be pulled towards Sagittarius A*, then it will likely be followed by other smaller black holes, in turn becoming mid-sized black holes, in turned consumed by the vast, growing void at the heart of our galaxy.