Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Astronomers have found indirect evidence of a new type of black hole, and they're now making advances toward seeing one for the first time.

Why it matters: Known as intermediate-mass black holes, these mysterious objects could be the key to unlocking how galaxies evolved, revealing more about why our universe looks the way it does.

The big picture: Black holes are an extreme laboratory by which sweeping theories can be put to the test.

  • They are where the laws of cosmology, general relativity and quantum physics that govern the largest and smallest processes in the universe combine.
  • If there is another type of black hole out there that astronomers have yet to discover, it will play a critical role in piecing together how our universe evolved, experts say.

Details: Scientists think intermediate-mass black holes may exist, but it's not clear how they form or where exactly they might be hiding today.

  • These types of black holes — which are thought to be about 100–100,000 times the mass of the Sun — are too large to have formed during the death of a star but too small to be considered supermassive black holes like the one found in the center of the Milky Way.
"If you have a small and a large, it's weird to just not have the medium."
— NASA astronomer Varoujan Gorjian told Axios

Where it stands: Astronomers have found dozens of possible intermediate-mass black holes, yet none have been confirmed.

  • The LIGO and Virgo detectors are sensitive enough to pick up on gravitational waves sent out during the collision of two intermediate-mass black holes.
  • Astronomers also hope that X-ray observatories could detect how these black holes might affect gas, dust and other objects around them, however, the light emitted during feeding frenzies may not be quite luminous enough to see from Earth with our current tools.
  • Gravitational waves "would give you the smoking gun, that direct measurement of the mass of these objects," LIGO's Salvatore Vitale told Axios.

Yes, but: If they do collide, intermediate-mass black holes likely produce strong gravitational waves at a frequency that competes with seismic activities on Earth — like cars driving by or waves crashing on the shore — making them harder for LIGO and Virgo to distinguish.

What's next: The European Space Agency's LISA mission — expected to launch in the mid-2030s — will be able to measure mergers between intermediate-mass black holes even in the distant universe, hopefully giving scientists an answer to the mystery once and for all.

Go deeper: Event Horizon Telescope hopes to produce first-ever moving image of a black hole

Go deeper

25 mins ago - Health

Axios-Ipsos poll: Federal response has only gotten worse

Data: Axios/Ipsos poll; Note ±3.3% margin of error for the total sample size; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Americans believe the federal government's handling of the pandemic has gotten significantly worse over time, according to the latest installment of the Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index.

Why it matters: Every other institution measured in Week 29 of our national poll — from state and local governments to people's own employers and area businesses — won positive marks for improving their responses since those panicked early days in March and April.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Politics: The swing states where the pandemic is raging — Pence no longer expected to attend Barrett confirmation vote after COVID exposure.
  2. Health: 13 states set single-day case records last week
  3. Business: Where stimulus is needed most.
  4. Education: The dangerous instability of school re-openings.
  5. States: Nearly two dozen Minnesota COVID cases traced to 3 Trump campaign events
  6. World: Unrest in Italy as restrictions grow across Europe.
  7. Media: Fox News president and several hosts advised to quarantine.

Hurricane Zeta makes landfall in Mexico ahead of expected arrival in U.S.

Hurricane Zeta's forecast path. Photo: National Hurricane Center

Hurricane Zeta made landfall on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula as a Category 1 storm late Monday packing maximum sustained winds of 80 mph, per the National Hurricane Center.

The state of play: Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) declared a state of emergency as Zeta strengthened into a hurricane earlier Monday.