Scientists have discovered a black hole closest to the Earth. It is orbited by a star like the Sun.
Black holes are nothing unusual for modern astronomers. Objects belonging to the group of supermassive black holes are most likely located in the centers of the vast majority or even all of the larger galaxies in The universe. They are also often detected. In fact, researchers even took pictures of two such black holes (in the center of galaxies M87 and the Milky Way).
Much more common, however, are small black holes with masses ranging from about 5 to 100 times the mass of the sun. It is estimated that there are at least 100 million such objects in the Milky Way alone. So far, however, very few of them have been found, because their detection is very difficult. Especially when they do not absorb any nearby matter.
Scientists have discovered the closest black hole to us
Now, scientists using data from the Gemini Observatory have boasted about the discovery of such an object. It consists of two large (8.1 meters) telescopes optical observatory, one (Gemini North) is located in Hawaii and the other (Gemini South) in the Chilean Andes.
Using the Hawaiian part of the observatory, the researchers observed a binary system with one component being a sun-like star and the other a black hole with an estimated mass of about 10 solar masses. The object called Gaia BH1 is located less than 1,600 light years from Earth, which is our immediate vicinity.
Thus, Gaia BH1 is the closest system to Earth in which the existence of at least one black hole has been confirmed. It is also the closest black hole to us in general and the closest “dormant” black hole ever discovered.
A small, “dormant” black hole so close to us
What does it mean? Scientists, of course, cannot observe black holes directly (they do not emit any light), but they can look for intense X-rays from the accretion disk during accretion (absorption) of hot matter. In case “dormant” black holes (i.e. those that do not actually absorb matter) are only observations of the gravitational influence of these objects on others.
As the scientists in the NOIRLab message, the discovery was possible thanks to very careful observations of the motion of the star that is a companion of the black hole. It orbits a common center of mass with the black hole at distances about one AU, which is the distance from the Earth to the Sun. Observations of the orbit of the star also allowed researchers to determine the mass of the black hole.
For now, however, it is not entirely clear how the Gaia BH1 was created. The more massive star in the system had to pass through the supergiant stage before turning into a black hole, engulfing or tearing a smaller component. However, this did not happen. Further research on the Gaia BH1 pair will allow scientists to better understand the formation of black holes in binaries.
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