Scientists discovered a relatively small black hole lurking next to a star in the constellation Ophiuchus, about 1,600 light years away. The snow the closest known backhole to Earth.
Black holes are the densest objects in our universe (sorry, neutron stars). Whether they are small stellar-mass black holes or the supermassives at the centers of galaxies, objects have gravitational fields so intense that not even photons of light can escape from their event horizons.
The newly discovered black hole, named Gaia BH1, is three times closer to Earth than the previous record holder. Details about his Discovery, as well as on the Star like the sun that orbits it, were published this week in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
The object was discovered using the Gemini North Telescope in Hawaii, part of the international Gemini Observatory, in conjunction with data from ESA’s Gaia spacecraft. Gaia data suggested the motion of the star was slightly odd for a single object; it seemed that the gravity of a massive object was affecting its movement.
Follow-up observations by Gemini North were made to determine the precise orbital period of the companion star, helping the team better estimate the mass of the unseen object.
“Although there have been many claimed detections of systems like this, almost all of these discoveries have subsequently been disproved,” said Kareem El-Badry, astrophysicist at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard and Smithsonian and the main author of the article, in a Release of NOIRLab. “This is the first unambiguous detection of a Sun-like star in a wide orbit around a stellar-mass black hole in our Galaxy.”
Keep in mind that a single light year is about 6 trillion miles, so at 1,600 light years away, the nearby black hole is only relatively close. Traveler – humanitythe most distant space mission of , zoomed away from Earth for almost 50 years and is just under 15 billion kilometers away. Alpha Centauri, the closest star system to Earth, is about 4.24 light years away.
Because light cannot escape from black holes, they are more easily seen when surrounded by superheated material they have accumulated; such is the case for the black hole in the center of Messier 87 and Sagittarius A*, the black hole in the center of the milky way. These two black holes were imaged by the Event Horizon C telescopecollaboration, thanks to the warm glow of matter that allows you to see where the black hole is hiding.
Black holes are much harder to spot when they are not actively feeding. that is, when they aredo not accrete matter, overheat it, and releasing X-rays in the process. Such is the case with Gaia BH1, which is invisible except for its gravitational effects on 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. “We were unable to find any plausible astrophysical scenario that could explain the system’s observed orbit that does not involve at least one black hole.”
But current models of binary systems involving a black hole and a star do not explain Gaia’s BH1 system. According NOIRLabthe star that gave way to the black hole in the system would be massive, and it should have engulfed the other (i.e., still existing) star in the system before the black hole formed.
observe more black hole binary systems will ultimately help astrophysicists refine their models of how these systems form and evolve. Space-based observatories like NASA’s IXPE and NICER and NuSTAR will aid in these efforts, peering into the high-energy X-rays emitted by black hole feeding.
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