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UNH researcher finds proof of rare mid-sized black holes by catching one feeding on a star

Union Leader Correspondent

June 19. 2018 11:29AM
The existence of intermediate-mass black holes is debated by scientists. Now, a researcher at UNH has found evidence of one. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/Union Leader Correspondent)

DURHAM — A research assistant professor at the University of New Hampshire’s Space Science Center has discovered evidence of a rare mid-sized black hole.

Scientists have been able to prove small and super-massive black holes exist, but intermediate-mass black holes have been a hotly debated topic, according to a news release issued by UNH.

Dacheng Lin can now affirm mid-sized black holes exist after capturing one devouring a star. Lin said researchers have seen similar events in the past, but they were caught too late or were too far away. The findings were published in a study in Nature Astronomy on Monday.

“People know very little about mid-sized black holes because they couldn’t find many good candidates so far,” Lin said in an interview Monday afternoon. “This one is special because a star just happened to be close.”

Lin said by using space satellites they detected the intermediate-mass black hole a few days ago. Now, they will continue to monitor it to see how it changes over time.

Lin said this black hole will be interesting to watch. It could grow quickly because of the available gas to eat.

Lin began studying black holes in 2003 and has watched the mid-sized black hole debate continue over time.

“People have been fighting to find mid-sized black holes because it is very important in astrophysics,” Lin said. “We happened to find one due to a special situation because of an event.”

Lin says typically a researcher might catch one black hole in their career.

According to NASA’s website, a black hole is a place in space where gravity pulls so much that even light cannot get out. The gravity is so strong because matter has been squeezed into a tiny space.

Because no light can get out, black holes are invisible and space telescopes with special tools can help scientists detect them, according to NASA’s website.

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