Astronomers have discovered the closest known black hole to Earth, and it’s twice as close as the previous record holder.
The space-time The singularity, named Gaia BH1, is 1,566 light-years away in the constellation Ophiuchus and is about 10 times more massive than our own. Sun. It’s close enough to our planet to be considered ‘in our cosmic backyard’, researchers say said in a press release.
Gaia BH1 is not alone; it is part of a binary system with a sun-like star orbiting at about the same distance as Earth orbit around the sun. The system, which was described in a November 4 study published in the journal Royal Astronomical Society Monthly Noticesis the first of its kind ever observed in the Milky Way.
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“Although there have been many claimed detections of systems like this, almost all of these discoveries have subsequently been disproved,” the lead author said. Kareem El Badry, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Massachusetts and the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Germany, said in the statement. “This is the first unambiguous detection of a sun-like star in a wide orbit around a stellar-mass black hole in our galaxy.”
black holes start out as large stars with a mass about five to 10 times that of the sun. As larger stars approach the end of their lives, they fuse heavier and heavier elements, such as silicon or magnesium, inside their hot cores. But once that fusion process begins to form iron, the star is stuck on the path to violent self-destruction.
Iron requires more energy to fuse than it releases, and the star can no longer sustain the immense gravitational forces generated by its enormous mass. It explodes outward before collapsing in on itself, packing first its core, then all the question close to it, at a point of infinitesimal dimensions and infinite density — a singularity. Beyond a boundary called the event horizon, nothing – not even light – can escape the new black hole. gravitational pull.
Feeding black holes are visible as a dark heart surrounded by a ring of blurry, distorted light. This halo comes from matter being slowly stripped and shredded from nearby stars, planets and nebulae.
But not all black holes feed, and finding these dormant monsters among the estimated 100 million stellar-mass black holes lurking in the Milky Way requires an elaborate strategy.
To zero in on the nearby black hole, the researchers turned to the European Space Agency’s Gaia spacecraft, which mapped the positions and movements of some 2 billion stars in the Milky Way. Sifting through data from Gaia, astronomers found a star that appeared to have a distinct wobble – a slight limp in the usually smooth path of its trajectory. The researchers suspected that the mysterious wobble came from the invisible tugs of a black hole.
To confirm this, scientists turned to ground-based telescopes such as Magellan Clay and MPG/ESO in Chile and Gemini North and Keck 1 in Hawaii. Detailed observations revealed that a giant, invisible object was indeed shooting at the star.
“Our Gemini tracking observations have confirmed beyond reasonable doubt that the binary contains a normal star and at least one dormant black hole,” El-Badry said.
The system is also interesting because the black hole could come from a star 20 times more massive than our sun. Normally, these behemoths swell outward at the end of their life, consuming everything in their path, before collapsing inward to form a black hole.
According to the researchers, this process should have consumed the black hole’s companion star, or at least dragged it into a much tighter orbit, and yet it is still mysteriously intact and orbiting at a good distance. Finding out how it happened is the next challenge for astronomers.
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