Three billion years ago, in a third of a second, two black holes crashed into each other and merged into a single entity, converting two solar masses into energy that shook the fabric of spacetime, sending gravitational ripples across the universe that were detected on Earth last January, researchers announced Thursday.
All known black holes fall into two categories: small, stellar-mass black holes weighing a few Suns, and supermassive black holes weighing millions or billions of Suns. Astronomers expect that intermediate-mass black holes weighing 100 – 10,000 Suns also exist, but so far no conclusive proof of such middleweights has been found. Astronomers have announced new evidence that an intermediate-mass black hole (IMBH) weighing 2,200 Suns is hiding at the center of the globular star cluster 47 Tucanae.
Monster black holes sometimes lurk behind gas and dust, hiding from the gaze of most telescopes. But they give themselves away when material they feed on emits high-energy X-rays that NASA’s NuSTAR mission can detect. That’s how NuSTAR recently identified two gas-enshrouded supermassive black holes, located at the centers of nearby galaxies.