Astrophysics, discovered the missing link in the evolution of black holes

A team of researchers has used the data collected by the ESA satellite ‘Gaia’ and by the Hubble Space Telescope of NASA and the European Space Agency

Discovered the missing link in the evolution of the gods intermediate black holes. In a study published today in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, a group of researchers led by the Space Telescope Science Institute (StscI) exploited the data collected by satellite of Esa Gaiaspecifically those of Data Release 3, and others obtained from Hubble Space Telescope (Nasa and Esa) to study something unusual within the very ancient star cluster Messier 4 (M4), the closest to the Earth. And they noticed a huge dark mass at the center of the cluster, 800 times more massive than our Sun, which could be an intermediate-mass black hole.

Eduardo Vitral, first author of the article and researcher at the Space Telescope Science Institute, explains that “using the latest data from Gaia and Hubble, it was impossible to distinguish between a population of stellar remnants and a single larger point source. So one of the possible theories is that instead of being many separate small objects, this dark mass could be a medium-sized black hole.”

Astronomers have been trying to solve the mystery of intermediate-mass black holes for more than two decades. Most of the black holes we know of are the smallest remnants of giant stars (up to 100 times the mass of the Sun) or the supermassive ‘cores’ of large galaxies, with masses that can reach billions of times that of the Sun. With a “Weight” between 100 and 1 million suns, black holes of intermediate mass would be the link between the two types.

Timo Prusti, project scientist of the Gaia mission, points out that “Gaia data from Data Release 3 on the proper motion of stars in the Milky Way was essential in this study”. “Future published data and follow-up studies from the Hubble and James Webb Space Telescopes could shed further light on this mystery,” he notes.

For Luigi Bedin, INAF researcher in Padua and co-author of the article, “in the near future we will have the opportunity to better characterize this mass excess thanks to an analysis of 120 orbits of Hubble data (GO-12911, PI: Bedin) and above all thanks to new observations by James Webb of M4 just collected (last April 9, 2023, under the GO-1979 program, with PI: Bedin), data specifically designed for this type of survey, but not used in this work”. Mattia Libralato and Andrea Bellini, two Italian astronomers and researchers at StscI also participated in the research.