June 20, 2024

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Astronomers find a black hole in the cosmic backyard

Astronomers find a black hole in the cosmic backyard

Astronomers announced Friday that they’ve discovered, almost but not quite in time for Halloween The nearest known black hole. It’s massive, an envelope of yawning void ten times the mass of the Sun, orbiting its star as much as the Earth orbits our star.

But don’t worry: This black hole is 1,600 light-years away in the constellation Ophiuchus. The nearest known black hole is located about 3,000 light-years away in the constellation of Monoceros. What distinguishes this new black hole from the twenty or so others already identified in our Milky Way, besides its proximity, is that it does nothing – it does not attract the nearby star to its doom, nor does it consume the gravity of everything nearby. Instead, the black hole is asleep, a silent killer waiting for the currents of space to feed it.

Black holes are objects so dense that, according to Einstein’s general theory of relativity, not even light can escape from them. This makes it the most interesting and violent phenomenon in nature; When nourished, it can become the brightest thing in the universe, as gas, dust, and even young stars are shredded and heated to glow, emitting energy as it approaches the gates of eternity.

Each galaxy contains a supermassive black hole millions or billions of times the mass of the Sun. Scientists are not sure where they come from. Smaller black holes are thought to consist of massive stars that have reached the end of their thermonuclear life and collapsed. There may be millions of black holes in the Milky Way. They usually make themselves known by the X-rays they spit out as they strip gas from their companions in double star systems.

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But what about dormant holes, the ones that don’t currently cough up fire? Karim El-Badri, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, has been searching for such hidden demons for four years. He found this black hole by examining data from the European Space Agency’s GAIA spacecraft, which has been tracking with pinpoint accuracy the locations, motions and other properties of millions of stars in the Milky Way.

Al-Badri and his team discovered a star, almost identical to our Sun, that was quivering strangely, as if under the influence of the gravity of an invisible companion. For further investigation, the researchers took possession of the Gemini North telescope located atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii, which can measure the speed and period of this oscillation and thus determine the relative masses of the objects in question. The technique matches the process by which astronomers analyze the wobble of stars to detect the presence of exoplanets orbiting the Solar System – except this time the quarry was much larger.

Their results and subsequent calculations were consistent with a 10-solar-mass black hole surrounded by a star similar to ours. They named it Gaia BH1.

“Take the solar system, put a black hole where the sun is and the sun where the earth is, and you get that system,” Dr. full moon He said in a press release From the National Optical and Infrared Laboratory, which operates the Gemini North Telescope.

He and his colleagues wrote: “This is the nearest known three-fold black hole, and its discovery indicates that there are a large number of dormant black holes in binaries.” in paper Published Wednesday in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Astronomers said the new discovery raised questions about their supposed knowledge of how binary star systems evolved. The predecessor of this black hole must have been a star of about 20 solar masses. According to leading theories, the star’s death and subsequent black hole formation would have involved a supernova explosion and other processes that would severely disrupt the other, smaller star in the system. So why does the other star appear naturally?

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“It raises many questions about how this binary system is formed, as well as how many lurking black holes are there,” Dr. El-Badri said in the press release.