Astronomers find evidence of small black holes hiding in plain sight

Researchers with Ohio State University have published a new study detailing the potential existence of a new class of black holes, ones that are smaller than what are currently known to be the smallest black holes in the universe. The discovery of a new class would help astronomers in their mission to find and catalog black holes, ultimately improving our understanding of the universe around us.

Black holes are the 'hungry' result of dead stars, which eventually pull into themselves and then explode. These black holes have insane gravitational pulls on everything around them, tearing apart planets that get too close and more. Most black holes have around five to 15 times the mass of our Sun, but recent discoveries have put the figure as high as 31.

The discovery proved that black holes can be bigger than previously known and the new study suggests it is possible there may also be a class of extra-small, relatively speaking, black holes, as well. Researchers sifted through Apache Point Observatory Galactic Evolution Experiment (APOGEE) data as part of their work, looking for evidence of stars orbiting around something.

The work narrowed down to a giant red star that, based on the data, seems to be orbiting something. Whatever it is orbiting, however, is 'much smaller' than the black holes found in our galaxy; at the same time, the object is too big to be a neutron star, which forms when some planets die. After crunching the data, the scientists believe they found a black hole that has a low mass of about 3.3 times that of our Sun.

The study's lead author Todd Thompson said:

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. The masses of things tell us about their formation and evolution, and they tell us about their nature.