Nov 19, 2019

Observing a new kind of black hole could be within reach

Artist's concept of an intermediate-mass black hole. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Scientists may need to cast a wide net, searching across a range of frequencies in order to find never-before-observed intermediate-mass black holes if they crash together in deep space, according to a study in Nature Astronomy this week.

Why it matters: Intermediate-mass black holes — those that are 100–100,000 times the mass of the Sun — represent a gap in humanity's understanding of the universe and could be key to figuring out just how our cosmos evolved over time.

What they found: LIGO can, in theory, pick up ripples in space-time from intermediate-mass black holes today, but according to the new study, it will take future detectors to get a more complete view of the mysterious objects.

  • The space-based LISA observatory — which is expected to launch in the 2030s — will be able to search for those gravitational waves at lower frequencies than LIGO.
  • That range of frequencies between the instruments will allow scientists on the ground to observe these types of black holes and others as they spiral in toward each other for extended periods of time before merging.
  • "If LISA sees it, that means it is going to appear in LIGO's [frequency] band four years later," Karan Jani, an author of the new study, told Axios.

What's next: New ground-based observatories could also help scientists parse signal from noise and find direct evidence if these types of black holes exist.

  • Scientists aren’t just looking for these types of black holes through gravitational waves, either. Astronomers have found a number of candidate intermediate-mass black holes through X-ray signatures as well.

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Scientists spot galaxy with 3 supermassive black holes in its core

The galaxy NGC 6240. Photo: NASA/ESA/STScI/AURA

A galaxy with three supermassive black holes swirling within it could help astronomers piece together just how some of the largest galaxies formed.

Why it matters: The discovery in the NGC 6240 galaxy located about 400 million light-years away marks the first time three supermassive black holes have been found in such close proximity to one another. The galaxy gives scientists an unprecedented chance to study the motions of three huge black holes that were once likely parts of three different galaxies as they merge.

Go deeperArrowDec 4, 2019

NASA photo reveals star formation sparked by distant supermassive black hole

Photo: X-ray: NASA/CXC/INAF/R. Gilli et al.; Radio NRAO/VLA; Optical: NASA/STScI

A supermassive black hole's influence can stretch far beyond its immediate surroundings.

What's happening: A newly released photo from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes reveals a black hole in the middle of a galaxy 9.9 billion light-years from Earth that's spurring on star formation in four other galaxies around it, according to a new study in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Go deeperArrowDec 10, 2019

2020 Democrats turn focus to black men

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Democratic candidates have spent the last few weeks hosting intimate conversations with black men — mostly in South Carolina — tapping into how these voters think and feel about the 2020 election.

Why it matters: Black voter turnout declined in 2016 for the first time in 20 years. And 13% of black male voters supported Donald Trump — over three times the rate of black women who did the same.

Go deeperArrowDec 3, 2019