Astrophysicists discover the closest black hole to Earth

Astrophysicists discover the closest black hole to Earth

An artistic impression of a star and a black hole in a binary system.

scientists have discovered a relatively small black hole lurking next to a star in the constellation Ophiuchus, about 1.600 light years away. It is now the closest known backhole to Earth.

Black holes are the densest objects in our universe (sorry, neutron stars). Whether they are small, stellar black holes or the super heavy Bee the centers of galaxies, the objects have gravitational fields so intense that even photons of light cannot escape their event horizon.

The recently discovered black hole, called Gaia BH1, is three times closer to Earth than the previous record holder. Details about his discovery, as well as about the Sun-like star that revolves around it, goods 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 combination with data from the ESA’s Gaia spacecraft. The Gaia data suggested the the star’s motion was somewhat odd for a single object; it looked like the gravity of a massive object affect its movement.

Follow-up observations by Gemini North were made to determine the companion star’s precise orbital period, allowing the team to better estimate the mass of the invisible object.

“While there have been many purported detections of these types of systems, almost all of these discoveries have subsequently been disproved,” said Kareem El-Badry, an astrophysicist at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard and Smithsonian and the paper’s lead author, in a NOIRLab release. “This is the first unequivocal detection of a Sun-like star in broad orbit around a stellar-mass black hole in our Milky Way.”

Keep in mind that a single light-year is about 6 trillion miles, so at 1600 light-years away, the nearby black hole is only relatively close. Voyager — humanityThe furthest traveled space mission – has zoomed nearly 50 years from Earth and is just under 15 billion miles away. Alpha Centauri, the closest galaxy to Earth, is about 4.24 light-years away.

Because light cannot escape black holes, they are easiest to see when they are surrounded by superheated material they have accumulated; that is the case for the black hole in the center of Messier 87 and Sagittarius A*, the black hole at the center of the Milky Way. Both black holes were imaged by the Event Horizon Telescope Ccollaboration, thanks to the warm glow of matter that shows you where the black hole is hiding.

Black holes are much harder to spot when they’re not actively feeding; that is, when they to beno matter grows, it overheats, and thereby release X-rays. such the case with Gaia BH1, who is invisibleble except for the gravitational effects on the star.

“Our follow-up observations of Gemini confirmed beyond a reasonable doubt that the binary star contains a normal star and at least one sleeping black hole,” El-Badry said. “We could not find a plausible astrophysical scenario that could explain the observed orbit of the system that does not involve at least one black hole.”

But current models of binary systems with a black hole and a star do not explain the Gaia BH1 system. According to NOIRLabthe star that gave way to the black hole in the system would have been huge and swallowed up the other (ie, still existing) star in the system before the black hole was formed.

Observe more black hole binary systems will eventually help astrophysicists refine their models of how these systems form and evolve. Space observatories such as IXPE and NASA’s NICER and NuSTAR will help with this, by examining the high-energy X-rays emitted by feeding black holes.

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