The intermediate-mass black hole in question was caught in the act of swallowing a star, called a tidal disruption event. Dubbed 3XMM J215022.4-055108, the event occured in a star cluster associated with a lenticular galaxy at distance of almost 800 million light-years away.
“The fact that we were able to catch this intermediate-mass black hole while it was devouring a star offers a remarkable opportunity to observe what otherwise would be invisible,” said Professor Ann Zabludoff, an astronomer at the University of Arizona.
“Not only that, by analyzing the flare we were able to better understand this elusive category of black holes, which may well account for the majority of black holes in the centers of galaxies.”
Professor Zabludoff and colleagues used X-rays emitted during the 3XMM J215022.4-055108 event to make the first measurements of both the intermediate-mass black hole’s mass and spin.
“The X-ray emissions from the inner disk formed by the debris of the dead star made it possible for us to infer the mass and spin of this black hole and classify it as an intermediate black hole,” siad Dr. Sixiang Wen, a postdoctoral researcher with the Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona.
“Despite their presumed abundance, the origins of supermassive black holes remain unknown, and many different theories currently vie to explain them,” said Dr. Peter Jonker, an astronomer at Radboud University and the SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research.
“Intermediate-mass black holes could be the seeds from which supermassive black holes grow.”
“Therefore, if we get a better handle of how many bona fide intermediate black holes are out there, it can help determine which theories of supermassive black hole formation are correct.”
Even more exciting is the measurement of the intermediate-mass black hole’s spin that the team was able to obtain.
The spin measurement holds clues as to how black holes grow, and possibly to particle physics.
“This black hole has a fast spin, but not the fastest possible spin,” Professor Zabludoff said.
“It’s possible that the black hole formed that way and hasn’t changed much since, or that two intermediate-mass black holes merged recently to form this one.”
“We do know that the spin we measured excludes scenarios where the black hole grows over a long time from steadily eating gas or from many quick gas snacks that arrive from random directions.”
In addition, the spin measurement allows scientists to test hypotheses about the nature of dark matter, which is thought to make up most of the matter in the Universe.
Dark matter may consist of unknown elementary particles not yet seen in laboratory experiments.
“Among the candidates are hypothetical particles known as ultralight bosons,” said Dr. Nicholas Stone, an astronomer at Hebrew University.
“If those particles exist and have masses in a certain range, they will prevent an intermediate-mass black hole from having a fast spin.”
“Yet the 3XMM J215022.4-055108’s black hole is spinning fast. So, our spin measurement rules out a broad class of ultralight boson theories, showcasing the value of black holes as extraterrestrial laboratories for particle physics.”
Originally Published By SciNews