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Scientists excited with sudden discovery of ‘missing link’ in black hole evolution

Scientists believe they have found the long-sought “missing link” in black hole evolution — intermediate-mass black holes (IMBHs), which are believed to lead to the creation of supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies.

Researchers have spotted an object called NGC-2276-3c, which is about 100 million light-years from Earth in the spiral galaxy NGC-2276, according to a Space.com report.

Astronomers believe that IMBHs have the mass of a few hundred to a fewhundred thousand suns — tiny compared to supermassive black holes, which can be the size of billions of solar masses. They are larger, however, than stellar-mass black holes, which form when a massive star collapses, and usually have a size of five to tens of solar masses.

While scientists have not had any trouble finding collapsed stars and supermassive black holes, it hasn’t been so easy to track down IMBH, which are often on their way to becoming supermassive black holes. Although scientists have long believed them to exist, the intermediate masses have proved very elusive.

However, study co-author Tim Roberts of the University of Durham in the UK said in a statement that he and his colleagues at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts had used NASA’s CHandra X-ray Observatory and the European Very Long Baseline Interferometry Network to spot NGC-2276-3c, which is believe to be the long-lost IMBH, according to the report.

Using their observations and the known relationship between black hole mass and X-ray and radio wavelength luminosity, the team was able to calculate that NGC-2276-3c had a mass of 50,000 suns, placing it squarely in the IMBH category.

It’s an exciting find for scientists, as it “helps tie the whole black hole family together,” said study co-author Andrei Lobanov of the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, as quoted by the report.

And that’s not all: the black hole is blasting a radio jet 2,000 light-years into space, clearing a 1,000 light-year path where no young stars exist, indicating that it blasted away the gas clouds that would normally collapse into stars.

A separate study looks into the origin of NGC-2276-3c. Scientists are have found that the equivalent of about five to 15 solar masses are created each year in the NGC-2276 galaxy, a rapid rate that suggests a dwarf galaxy collided with NGC-2276 at some point, and NGC-2276-3c may actually have been near the core of the dwarf galaxy.