UF researchers discover new type of black hole

Stellar black hole

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – UF researchers who helped confirm Einstein’s theory of gravitational waves have found a new type of black hole that challenges prior understanding of how the mysterious cosmic objects are formed across the universe, according to a release from the university.

The discovery, published Wednesday in Physical Review Letters, identifies an intermediate-mass black hole. The discovery serves as a connector, the missing link, between known categories of black holes: smaller black holes known as stellar-mass black holes, and the largest black holes known as supermassive black holes.

“We don’t totally understand where it is coming from or how it is formed, but this is the beginning of new physics,” said Sergey Klimenko, a University of Florida professor who pioneered development of searches for intermediate-mass black holes in LIGO. “Astronomers were making bets if such black holes existed or not, and people believed they could not exist, but we found it.”

The UF team involved in this discovery includes Klimenko, Imre Bartos, Guenakh Mitselmakher, David Tanner, Guido Mueller, Bernard Whiting, Paul Fulda, Steve Eikenberry and John Conklin as well as David Reitze who is the Director of the LIGO Laboratory responsible for the whole project.

Researchers observed the black hole using twin detectors of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and the Virgo gravitational-wave detector in Italy. These detectors are calibrated to sense tiny changes of distances on earth that are then interpreted through algorithms to make sense of the cosmic communication.

“This black hole teaches us about the universe in ways that we weren’t previously aware of,” said Bartos, an assistant professor at the University of Florida, who chairs the LIGO working group that is searching for intermediate-mass black holes.

In the five years since the LIGO project discovered gravitational waves, scientists across the world have fine-tuned instruments measuring these gravitational waves to find new phenomenon in space. The gravitational waves help reveal what happens in the universe and can tell us about how black holes are formed.