Black hole could reveal secrets of Milky Way galaxy
A strange black hole has been detected for the first time at the heart of the Milky Way.
Looming in the middle of every galaxy, supermassive black holes weigh as much as ten billion suns - fuelling the birth of stars and deforming the fabric of space-time itself.
But the mass of the newly identified black hole is only about 100,000 times that of our sun - placing it in the "intermediate-sized" class.
These were believed to exist but none had ever actually been identified - until now. Lying about 25,000 light years from Earth, it could help answer one of the really big questions - how did the Milky Way evolve?
It was found hiding in a cloud of molecular gas by Japanese astronomers using the Alma telescope in the Andes in northern Chile. The radio telescope's high sensitivity and resolution enabled them to observe the cloud 195 light years from the Milky Way's centre spot. It sheds fresh light on the most mysterious objects in the universe.
Recent research has shown supermassive black holes are essential to the creation of galaxies, stars - and even life itself. Each one is about half a per cent of the host galaxy's size - which indicates they are the driving force behind their evolution.
The finding provides important insights into how supermassive black holes like the one at the very centre of our galaxy were created.
Although it is well established they reside in seemingly all galaxies, we do not know how they get so enormous. This is despite them appearing to have been in place when the universe was comparatively young - only a few hundred million years old.
Now the mystery could be solved by the identification of the intermediate-type black hole - something astrophysicists suspected were around but for which there have been only tentative candidates in the past.
It's believed they could be the seeds of their more massive counterparts - merging together to form a gigantic one, intermediate black holes might simply turn out to be their progenitors.