Kissimmee, Florida – Observations from the Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Observatory revealed there’s a rare supermassive black hole lacking a population of stars around it. Astronomers found a galaxy called SDSS J1126+2944 that contains a barely “naked” black hole and another that’s completely surrounded by stars, as black holes usually are.

This discovery was published in the Astrophysical Journal and presented this week during the American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting at Kissimmee, Florida. The findings are so amusing because the odd discrepancy might have a significant impact on the evolution of galaxies, as well as on black hole evolution.

Image of the galaxy SDSS J1126+2944 taken with the Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Observatory. The arrow shows the black hole that is lacking a population of stars. Credit: NASA

“One black hole is starved of stars, and has 500 times fewer stars associated with it than the other black hole,” said lead researcher Julie Comerford, from Colorado University, Boulder. “The question is why there’s such a discrepancy.”

Scientists are trying to explain why a black hole appears naked, especially when there’s another buzzing with stars nearby. Some of them believe that the rare phenomenon came as a consequence of a so-called galactic merger. According to a report by Discovery News, mergers occur when two or more galaxies collide and end up swamped by each other’s relative gravitational forces. Some stars usually scatter before settling into position when there’s a collision between multiple galaxies, but most of them mingle and then settle.

The galactic merger is a fact. The SDSS J1126+2944 galaxy is the result of that type of galaxy interaction. Researchers are trying to find out if that event had an impact on the black hole that was found without stars.

As part of galactic evolution, supermassive black holes could eventually collide and get trapped in their mutual gravitational well, creating a single super-supermassive black hole. However, a black hole merger doesn’t seem to be the case in SDSS J1126+2944, since the two completely different black holes are still a huge distance apart. Scientists say that the fact that one of the black holes is lacking a population of stars will certainly influence its supply of in-falling matter.

Comerford explained there’s another possibility, a very curious explanation that could change the way scientists conceive the growth of black holes. There’s an enormous mass gap between the two different supermassive black holes, which might be filled by “intermediate mass” black holes (IMBHs). Astronomers believe there may be a lot of medium-sized IMBHs there that are on their way to grow supermassive.

Co-author Scott Barrows, also from the University of Colorado, said intermediate black holes are hard to find because researchers don’t have accurate information to point them where to look. He suggested that further study of the rare galaxy may lead him and his team to catch sight of one of the IMBHs.

Source: Discovery News