(ORDO NEWS) — Astronomers using the Gemini North telescope in Hawaii have discovered the closest black hole to Earth, which the researchers named Gaia BH1.
This black hole, about 10 times the mass of the Sun, is located about 1,600 light-years away in the constellation of Ophiuchus.
It is twice as close to Earth as the previous record holder, an X-ray binary in the constellation Monoceros.
Black holes, whose mass is only a few times the mass of the Sun, are quite common: there are about 100 million of them in the Milky Way alone, but finding them is not at all easy.
To date, only a few stellar-mass black holes have been confirmed. Nearly all of them are “active,” meaning they glow brightly in X-rays as they absorb material from a companion star, unlike “dormant” black holes, which don’t.
Astronomers using the Gemini North telescope in Hawaii have discovered the closest black hole to Earth, which the researchers named Gaia BH1. This “sleeping” black hole weighs about 10 times the mass of the Sun and is located about 1600 light-years away in the constellation of Ophiuchus.
It is about twice as close to Earth as the previous record holder, a black hole in an X-ray binary system in the constellation Monoceros.
The new discovery was made possible by careful observations of the motion of the black hole’s companion. It is a sun-like star that orbits the black hole at about the same distance as the Earth orbits the Sun.
“Take the solar system, put a black hole where the Sun is, and the Sun where the Earth is, and you have this system,” explained Karim El-Badri, an astrophysicist at the Center for Astrophysics at the Harvard and Smithsonian Institutions, and the lead author of the paper.
“Although there have been many reports of the discovery of such systems, almost all of these discoveries have subsequently been refuted.
This is the first unequivocally confirmed finding of a sun-like star in a wide orbit around a stellar-mass black hole in our galaxy.”
Millions of stellar-mass black holes roam our Milky Way. But only a few have been discovered. They are found due to their energetic interactions with a companion star in binary systems.
As material from a nearby star spirals towards the black hole, it superheats and generates powerful X-rays and jets of material.
This is exactly what the previous record holder is – a black hole in the constellation Monoceros, the distance to which is 3460 light years.
The discovery of a “sleeping” black hole is a much rarer event.
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