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Scientists found signs of a ‘missing link’ black hole at our galaxy’s center

Published Feb 17th, 2023 6:08PM EST
Supermassive black hole at spiral galaxy center
Image: Paulista/Adobe

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Scientists have discovered signs of a missing link black hole near the center of the Milky Way. This discovery marks the finding of the fifth candidate for what astronomers call an intermediate black hole that has been found near our galactic center. The hope is that finding one of these supposed missing links would help astronomers better understand how supermassive black holes form.

The discovery was made possible thanks to observations that uncovered a strange tadpole-shaped molecular cloud orbiting nothing near the center of our galaxy. Typically when something is found orbiting nothing it indicates the presence of a black hole, which is exceptionally difficult to see with the light-based telescopes we utilize. The belief is that the tadpole is orbiting a missing link black hole.

star black hole
Typically, we can only see black holes because of their gravitational effect on the universe around them. Image source: European Southern Observatory

But why exactly do astronomers refer to these intermediate black holes as “missing links?” The reasoning behind the name comes from the belief that these black holes are a stepping stone between the normal stellar black holes we know of and the supermassive black holes found at galactic centers. They’re often referred to as missing link black holes because they hold more mass than regular black holes.

Despite holding more mass, though, they are believed to hold less mass than the supermassive black holes like the one we imaged at the center of the Milky Way. Thus far, scientists have discovered a total of more than 300 candidates. However, additional observation is needed to confirm if they are indeed these missing link black holes that scientists are looking for.

Learning how supermassive black holes form could open the door to a better understanding of galactic evolution as a whole. The problem, though, is that lone black holes often do not have any kind of light emitted around them. As such, it’s only possible for us to detect these missing link black holes by looking for signs of their immense gravity affecting the environment around them.

In this case, the tadpole-shaped molecular cloud appears to be evidence of the black hole’s gravitational pull. The researchers published their findings in The Astrophysical Journal last month.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.