Scientists discover closest black hole to Earth. Thankfully, it's dormant
The space is full of wonders and every day we find something new. Now, astronomers have discovered a black hole in our Milky Way galaxy via the International Gemini Observatory in Hawaii. Dubbed Gaia BH1, this spatial anomaly is dormant and almost ten times bigger than the Sun. It is located in the Ophiuchus constellation, about 1,600 light-years from Earth.
Why does this story matter?
- The newly found black hole is much more closer to Earth than the previous record holder in the Monoceros constellation around 3,000 light-years away.
- This discovery was made when the orbiting star and the black hole were at their closest distance.
- As per the researchers, this is the first detection of a Sun-like star in orbit around "a stellar-mass black hole" in our galaxy.
What led to this discovery?
Initially, observations from European Space Agency's (ESA) Gaia spacecraft revealed minor irregularities in the motion of a star, elicited by the gravitational effect of a large, invisible object. A follow-up investigation was performed by the Gemini Multi-Object Spectrograph, an instrument on the Gemini observatory. Finally, scientists concluded that the unseen body was a black hole, which is ten times as massive as the Sun.
How are dormant black holes different?
Dormant black holes are those that are not actively feeding and tend to blend with their surroundings, making them difficult to spot. They do not emit high levels of X-ray radiation, which serves as the most common basis for the detection of such celestial objects.
The distance between the star and black hole is miniscule
Describing the new black hole, Kareem El-Badry, an astrophysicist associated with the latest discovery said, "Take the Solar System, put a black hole where the Sun is, and the Sun where the Earth is, and you get this system." "This is the first unambiguous detection of a Sun-like star in a wide orbit around a stellar-mass black hole in our galaxy," he added.
There appear to be a few gaps in our understanding
Scientists predict that the progenitor star which transformed into the newly detected black hole would have been at least 20 times as massive as the Sun, implying that it could have lived only a few million years. Nearly all the existing theoretical models suggest that the "solar-mass star" should have ended up in a "much tighter orbit" but that is not the case.
The Gaia BH1 system defies current theories
Furthermore, existing concepts on the evolution of binary systems don't explain the bizarre configuration of the Gaia BH1. "It poses many questions about how this binary system was formed, as well as how many of these dormant black holes are out there," concluded El-Badry.