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Volunteer programmers help find mysterious black holes

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Washington: Russian volunteer programmers are bringing an international team of astronomers close to understanding the so-called intermediate-mass black holes (IMBH).

The term “black holes” was first used in the mid-20th century by theoretical physicist John Wheeler. This term denotes relativistic supermassive objects that are invisible in all electromagnetic waves, but a great number of astrophysical effects confirms their existence.

There are two basic types of black holes known to scientists according to observations: supermassive black holes and stellar-mass black holes. It’s less clear how supermassive black holes come to existence. Ivan Zolotukhin, who works at the Research Institute of Astrophysics and Planetology (Toulouse), said: “The astronomers look for black holes of intermediate mass, because no black hole that weighs a billion times more than the Sun could have been formed without them in just 700 million years.”

The methods of the Virtual Observatory were applied in the research, and all the conclusions were obtained exclusively with the use of publicly available data and, therefore, can be confirmed from any computer with Internet access.

Moreover, the authors used a new site to access the data of the XMM-Newton observatory. “The uniqueness of this web application is that for the first time in international fundamental science such a complicated project is made specifically for scientists by volunteers – highly skilled programmers, who, while working at the best IT-companies in Russia, devoted their free time to this web page. They are Alexey Sergeev, Askar Timirgazin, and Maxim Chernyshov,” told Zolotukhin.

This study essentially opens up the possibility for the search of intermediate-mass black holes. Since the researchers suggested more than a dozen of such candidates, it is expected that in the years to come they will be reliably confirmed with optical spectroscopic observations. In the near future it is expected to search for them by the six-meter telescope of the Special Astrophysical Observatory (Russia) as well. “If there is at least one confirmation – it will be published in Nature, and astronomers immediately will rush to explore these 98 objects,” said the author of the work.

The study is published in The Astrophysical Journal. (ANI)

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