A mysterious object has been discovered far in the universe. It concerns a certain type of former star, the species of which was not yet known. According to researchers, it is a missing piece of the puzzle in research into implosive stars and black holes.
When a large star dies, it implodes, leaving a black hole. Small stars explode like a supernova, leaving neutron stars behind. But there was a gap between the two so far: the largest neutron star is 2.5 times as massive as our Sun, the lightest black hole has five times the mass of the Sun. The object that has now been found is the first in between.
“We have waited decades for the answer to this mystery. We don’t know if it’s the most massive neutron star or the lightest black hole, but it breaks a record anyway,” explains astrophysicist Vicky Kalogera of Northwestern University in Illinois. However, a lot of research still needs to be done to unravel what it really is.
The object was discovered at its own demise. Long ago, it merged with a black hole 23 times as massive as our sun. This created a new black hole, 25 times heavier than the Sun, 800 million light-years away.
The merger swung a so-called gravitational wave through the universe, a vibration in the fibers of the universe, like the ripples when someone throws a stone into a pond.
That wave hit Earth on August 14 last year. The vibration was measured, and when scientists looked for the source, they discovered the strange object.
More than a hundred years ago, Albert Einstein suggested that the universe consists of space and time, which form one whole. Einstein called this space-time.
When a large event occurs, space-time can stretch or shrink. These vibrations are called gravitational waves. It’s only been a few years since there were detectors sensitive enough to measure the ripples.