New black hole discovered near Earth

With a new method
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Researchers find black hole closest to Earth

Scientists have discovered a new black hole closest to Earth. It is said to be ten times more massive than the Sun and three times closer than the nearest black hole identified so far.

At a distance of less than 1600 light-years from Earth (one light-year is the distance that light travels in a vacuum in one year: 9.46 trillion kilometers), scientists have discovered a candidate for the so far closest black hole. The object orbits a star similar to our sun in the constellation Ophiuchus, they report in the journal “Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society”. There is no plausible astrophysical scenario “that can explain the orbit and is not related to a black hole”. With the new method used, the team hopes to make more such discoveries in the coming years.

Black holes have mass concentrated in an extremely small volume. Supermassive versions are likely to be found at the centers of all major galaxies, as the scientists led by Kareem El-Badry from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge explain. Black holes with stellar mass – about five to a hundred times the mass of the sun – are much more common. There are an estimated 100 million of them in the Milky Way alone – only a few have been confirmed so far. These are usually active objects that glow brightly in X-ray light. The black hole that has now probably been discovered, on the other hand, is dormant – and therefore much more difficult to discover.

The researchers used data from the European Space Agency (ESA)’s “Gaia” space probe, and targeted measurements with telescopes were also used. Tiny shifts in the star’s position revealed the presence of the companion object. The black hole “Gaia BH1” is less than half as far away as the closest known such object, it said. It has a mass of around ten solar masses and orbits the sun-like star with an orbital period of 185.6 days and about the average distance between Earth and the sun.

The astrometry mission “Gaia” is designed for high-precision measurements of star positions. Where two objects orbit each other, each usually describes a small ellipse in the sky. With the orbital data of so-called binary star systems, the scientists specifically searched for candidates for a black hole. “Although there have been many alleged discoveries of such systems, almost all of them were later disproved,” El-Badry explained. “This is the first clear detection of a sun-like star in a wide orbit around a stellar-mass black hole in our galaxy,” he says.

(joko/dpa)

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