Astronomers have stumbled across a mysterious object in space that could help us better understand how Black Holes function and how they come to be.
The strange object—with an estimated 2.6 solar masses—sits inside the mass gap, a kind of cosmic object that was absent in previous searches across the universe.
As we explore the universe, we are left with more questions than answers. As researchers explore our universe, they have been unable to fully understand what happens when stars die, and whether they leave anything behind within that mysterious gap.
The mass gap enigma rose because of a cosmic discrepancy: the heaviest known neutron star is around 2.5 times the mass of the Sun, while the slightest known black hole is about five times the mass of our Sun. The strange thing seemed to be nothing in the strange gap between.
But a recent study from the National Science Foundation’s Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and the Virgo detector in Europe may help shed light onto the astronomical object in the mass gap.
Observations have revealed an object of around 2.6 solar masses, located right inside the mass gap.
The astronomical object was discovered by scientists in August 2019, during a merging process with a black hole of around 23 solar masses.
This cosmic fusion produced a gravitational wave splash that was later picked up on Earth by the LIGO and VIRGO instruments, the instruments responsible for the first detection of gravitational waves—disturbances in the curvature of spacetime, generated by accelerated masses, that propagate as waves outward from their source at the speed of light—back in 2016.
We don’t know if this object is the heaviest known neutron star or the lightest known black hole, but either way, it breaks a record,” revealed co-author Vicky Kalogera, a professor at Northwestern University, who says that scientists have been waiting decades to solve the mystery.
The discovery itself is revolutionary.
As explained by the co-author of the study Patrick Brady, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, “this is going to change how scientists talk about neutron stars and black holes.”
The event that produced the gravitational waves picked up on Earth—the cosmic merger—is dubbed GW190814 and resulted in what scientists think is a black hole of around 25 times the mass of our Sun.
Researchers note that some of the energy produced from the merger resulted in the energy blast that was registered in the form of gravitational waves.
The merger took place some 800 million light-years away.
As revealed by Dr. Patricia Schmidt, a member of the LIGO team, “This merger event is one of the most unusual ones observed in gravitational waves to date. It pushes our understanding of the nature of the lighter companion and how it is formed to the limits. This will keep astrophysicists occupied for a while.”
In fact, as noted by astronomers, the object is the most extreme disparity ever observe in a gravitational wave event.