Astrophysicists discovered the closest black hole to Earth

Astrophysicists discovered the closest black hole to Earth

Artist's impression of a star and black hole in a binary system.

Scientists discovered a relatively small black hole lurking next to a star in the constellation Ophiuchus, about 1600 light years from us. Now is the closest known back hole to Earth.

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

The recently discovered black hole – named Gaia BH1 – is three times closer to Earth than the previous record holder. Details about her discovery, as well as A star like the sun orbiting him, 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 Gemini International Observatory, along with data from ESA’s Gaia spacecraft. Data from Gaia suggests the motion of the star was a bit strange for an object; it seemed like the gravity of a massive object affects its movement.

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

“Although there have been many claims of the discovery of such 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 main author of the paper, ua NOIRLab edition. “This is the first unequivocal detection of a Sun-like star in a wide orbit around a stellar-mass black hole in our galaxy.”

Note that one light year is about 6 trillion miles, so a nearby black hole 1,600 light years away is only relatively close. Voyager—Humanitythe farthest-traveled space mission — zoomed in away from Earth for almost 50 years and is just under 15 billion miles 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 most easily seen when they are surrounded by the superheated material they have accumulated; such is the case for the the black hole at the center of Messier 87 and Sagittarius A*, the black hole at the center of the Milky Way. Both of these black holes were imaged by the Event Horizon Telescope Ccooperation, thanks to the warm glow of matter that allows you to see where the black hole is lurking.

Black holes are much harder to spot when they are not actively feeding; that is, when they arenot accumulation of matter, it is overheating, and releasing X-rays in the process. That’s right the case with Gaia BH1, which is invisible except for its gravitational effects on the star.

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

But current models of binary systems involving 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 massive and would have had to swallow another (ie still existing) star in the system before the black hole formed.

Observing 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 in this effort by probing the high-energy X-rays emitted by feeding black holes.

More: Black hole regurgitates star years after eating it

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