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This article was published on September 9, 2020

Astronomers witnessed the birth of the first intermediate black hole

Astronomers have long suspected the presence of black holes larger than those created by stars, but smaller than those at the centers of galaxies. Now, they’ve found one.

Astronomers witnessed the birth of the first intermediate black hole

An international team of astronomers witnessed the birth of the first intermediate-mass black hole ever detected. On May 21, 2019, a pair of gravitational wave observatories — The Laser Interferometry Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) in the United States, and Virgo, a three-kilometer-long detector in Italy — detected an unusual signal, dubbed GW190521.

This signal, resembling four short wiggles, lasted less than a tenth of a second. Yet, it revealed the formation of the first intermediate-mass black hole ever discovered.

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The pair of black holes likely spun into each other prior to their collision. Image credit: Northwestern University.
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Even for black holes, these bodies were large. Image credit: LIGO_Virgo / Frank Elavsky, Aaron Geller/Northwestern University.
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An infographic describing the titanic collision. Image credit: Northwestern University.
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A worker installs hardware upgrades at LIGO prior to its third run of observations. Image credit: LIGO/Caltech

This article was originally published on The Cosmic Companion by James Maynard, founder and publisher of The Cosmic Companion. He is a New England native turned desert rat in Tucson, where he lives with his lovely wife, Nicole, and Max the Cat. You can read this original piece here.

Astronomy News with The Cosmic Companion is also available as a weekly podcast, carried on all major podcast providers. Tune in every Tuesday for updates on the latest astronomy news, and interviews with astronomers and other researchers working to uncover the nature of the Universe.The first intermediate mass black hole ever seen has been discovered by astronomers, forming from the collision of a pair of smaller black holes. Interestingly, one of these had a mass that should not be allowed by our current understanding of these enigmatic objects.

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