A team of astronomers from Ohio State University has announced that the apparent discovery of an object belonging to a previously unknown class of black holes.
Having published their findings in Science magazine, the researchers argued that there could actually be black holes out there that are much smaller that the smallest of the currently known black holes.
"We're showing this hint that there is another population out there that we have yet to really probe in the search for black holes", study lead Todd Thompson said as quoted by phys.org. "People are trying to understand supernova explosions, how supermassive black stars explode, how the elements were formed in supermassive stars. So if we could reveal a new population of black holes, it would tell us more about which stars explode, which don't, which form black holes, which form neutron stars. It opens up a new area of study."
The object which piqued the team’s curiosity and which led them to these conclusions is a strange celestial body orbited by a giant red star, smaller than other black holes in the Milky Way but larger that the majority of known neutron stars.
Upon further analysis, the researchers concluded that the object they found was actually a small black hole whose mass is about 3.3 times that of the sun.
"What we've done here is come up with a new way to search for black holes, but we've also potentially identified one of the first of a new class of low-mass black holes that astronomers hadn't previously known about," Thompson explained. "The masses of things tell us about their formation and evolution, and they tell us about their nature."