In Brief

Scientists discover new variety of black hole

Astronomers had previously missed entire class of dead star

Scientists have discovered a new type of black hole that is smaller than previously thought possible.

Astronomers from Ohio State University found a black hole that was just 3.3 times the mass of the Sun, a lot smaller than regular black holes, which are typically between five and 15 times the mass of the Sun.

The findings, published in Science magazine, could help scientists understand more about the universe.

“We’re showing this hint that there is another population out there that we have yet to really probe in the search for black holes,” said the study’s lead author Todd Thompson, professor of astronomy at Ohio State, in The Independent.

“People are trying to understand supernova explosions, how supermassive black stars explode, how the elements were formed in supermassive stars.

“So if we could reveal a new population of black holes, it would tell us more about which stars explode, which don’t, which form black holes, which form neutron stars. It opens up a new area of study,” he said.

Black holes can form after a star dies and then collapses, causing the core to heat to billions of degrees before exploding into space. The remains can cause a black hole.–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––For a round-up of the most important stories from around the world - and a concise, refreshing and balanced take on the week’s news agenda - try The Week magazine. Get your first six issues free–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

“Imagine a census of a city that only counted people 5' 9" and taller – and imagine that the census takers didn’t even know that people shorter than 5' 9" existed,” says phys.org. “Data from that census would be incomplete, providing an inaccurate picture of the population. That is essentially what has been happening in the search for black holes.”

Astronomers searching for new black holes used data from the Apache Point Observatory Galactic Evolution Experiment (APOGEE), which collects information on the intensity of light, from around 100,000 stars across our universe, says Metro.

They spotted a giant red star that seemed to be orbiting something smaller than a normal Milky Way black hole, but bigger than the alternative – a neutron star – which collapse if they reach more than 2.5 times the mass of the Sun.

Initially baffled, the scientists worked away at calculations and scrutinised further satellite data before realising they had found a small black hole.

“What we’ve done here is come up with a new way to search for black holes, but we’ve also potentially identified one of the first of a new class of low-mass black holes that astronomers hadn’t previously known about,” said Professor Thompson.

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