Astrophysicists discover the closest black hole to Earth

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

Scientists They discovered a relatively small black hole lurking next to a star in the constellation Ophiuchus, about 1,600 light years. it’s snowing The closest known backhole to Earth.

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

The recently discovered black hole – called Gaia BH1 – is three times closer to Earth than the previous record holder. Details about a file Discovery, as well as about A sun-like star revolves around it, they 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, in combination with data from the European Space Agency’s Gaia spacecraft. Gaia data suggested that The motion of the star was a bit strange for a single body; It looked as if the gravity of an enormous body affect its movement.

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

“Although there have been many alleged discoveries of systems like these, almost all of these have been refuted,” said Karim El-Badri, an astrophysicist at the Astrophysics Center. Harvard and Smithsonian and lead author of the paper, in NOIRLab version. “This is the first unequivocal discovery of a Sun-like star in a wide orbit around a stellar-mass black hole in our galaxy.”

Keep in mind that one light-year is about 6 trillion miles away, so at 1,600 light-years away a nearby black hole is relatively close. Voyager – HumanityThe Farthest Space Mission – Enlarged away from Earth for nearly 50 years and just under 15 billion miles. Alpha Centauri, the closest star system to Earth, is located about 4.24 light-years away.

Since light cannot escape from black holes, they are easy to see when surrounded by superheated material that has accumulated on them; This is the case for The A black hole at the center of Messier 87 and Sagittarius A*, and The black hole in the center of the Milky Way. Each of these black holes was imaged by Event Horizon Telescope CCooperat Thanks to the material’s warm glow that allows you to see where the black hole lies.

Black holes are difficult to detect when they are not actively feeding; That is, when they bethe substance does not accumulate, heated strongly, X-rays are fired in the process. Such as Case with Gaia BH1, an invisiExcept for its gravitational effects on the star.

“Our observations of Gemini follow-up confirmed beyond any doubt that the binary contains an ordinary star and at least one dormant black hole,” Al-Badri said. “We were unable to find a plausible astrophysical scenario that could explain the observed orbit of a system that does not include at least one black hole.”

But current models of binary systems that include a black hole and a star do not explain the Gaia BH1 system. according to NOIRLabthe star that gave way to the system’s black hole would be massive, and it would have to swallow the other star (that is, the one still present) in the system before the black hole could form.

Watch more Binary black hole systems Over time, it will help astrophysicists improve their models of how these systems form and evolve. Space observatories such as NASA’s IXPE, NICER, and NuSTAR will assist in these efforts, by examining high-energy X-rays emitted by feeding black holes.

MORE: The black hole is vomiting stars after years of eating it

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