Astronomers have discovered the closest known black hole to Earth.
The dormant black hole, dubbed Gaia BH1, lies 1,600 light years away – three times closer than the last black hole to hold the record – in the constellation of Ophiuchus. The black hole weighs 10 times the mass of our sun.
A paper published last week in the Royal Astronomical Society’s Monthly Notices details the discovery of a “Sun-like star orbiting a dim object”. The team of researchers initially identified the black hole using the European Space Agency’s Gaia spacecraft, according to a press release from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
The researchers then made 39 additional observations with six different telescopes around the world over a period of four months. While using a telescope in Hawaii operated by the National Science Foundation’s NOIRLab, the team was able to confirm that the central “dark object” was a dormant black hole.
Yes, it is “scary”. This is what a black hole looks like, according to NASA.
Look:First captured image of a black hole in Milk Way
“Take the solar system, put a black hole where the Sun is and the Sun where Earth is, and you get this system,” said Kareem El-Badry, lead author of the paper and an astrophysicist at Harvard. -Smithsonian Center. for Astrophysics and the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, in the press release.
“Although there have been many claimed detections of systems like this, almost all of these discoveries have subsequently been disproved,” El-Badry said. “This is the first unambiguous detection of a Sun-like star in a wide orbit around a stellar-mass black hole in our galaxy.”
The researchers don’t know how the binary system, in this case consisting of a star orbiting a black hole, formed in the Milky Way – but they noted that the discovery of Gaia BH1 “suggests the existence of a large population of dormant black holes”. in binaries.”
Astronomers estimate there are 100 million black holes in our galaxy, but only a handful have been confirmed so far.
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The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics notes that nearly all of the few black holes that have been confirmed are “active.” Scientists can tell if a black hole is active or dormant using X-ray radiation. Active black holes glow when they pull surrounding material into space. Dormant black holes do not emit high levels of X-rays, which makes them harder to see.
“If a black hole isn’t actively feeding (that is, dormant), it simply blends into its surroundings,” said the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
What is a black hole?
According to NASA, black holes are the result of “a gravitational field so strong that nothing, not even light, can escape from it.” Most black holes form after a large star dies in a supernova explosion. Stellar collisions can form much larger black holes.
The size of black holes varies considerably. “Stellar mass” black holes typically weigh 10 to 24 times the mass of our sun, while “supermassive” black holes can be millions or billions of times more massive than the sun, according to NASA.
But you don’t have to worry about a black hole destroying Earth anytime soon. The odds are incredibly small, say the scientists.
“Black holes don’t wander around in space eating stars, moons, and planets. Earth won’t fall into a black hole because no black hole is close enough to the solar system for Earth to do so. “, NASA noted in 2018, adding that the sun is not big enough to become a black hole.
Contributor: The Associated Press