When stars large enough to eclipse our sun die, they explode in a supernova and the remaining core is shattered by its own gravity, forming a black hole.
At times, the explosion could set the black hole in motion and race across the galaxy like pinball. There should be a lot of migratory black holes for scientists, but they are practically invisible in space and therefore difficult to detect.
Astronomers believe there are 100 million floating black holes roaming our galaxy. Now researchers believe they have discovered such an object. The discovery was made after six years of dedicated observations – and astronomers were even able to accurately measure the mass of an extreme cosmic object.
The black hole is 5,000 light-years away and is located in a spiral arm of the Milky Way called Carina-Sagittarius. This observation allowed the research team to estimate that the closest isolated black hole to Earth could be as little as 80 light-years away.
But if black holes are fundamentally indistinguishable from the void in space, how did Hubble discover this hole?
Black holes’ extremely strong gravitational fields distort the space around them, creating conditions that can deflect and amplify the starlight spreading behind them. This phenomenon is known as gravitational lensing. Ground telescopes look at the millions of stars scattered around the center of the Milky Way, looking for that transient brightness that indicates a large object has moved between us and the star.
Hubble is well positioned to follow up on these observations. Two different teams of researchers examined the observations to determine body mass. Both studies have been accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal.
“Whatever this object is, it is the first dark stellar remnant that has been discovered to travel through the galaxy unaccompanied by another star,” Lamm said in a statement.
The black hole passed in front of a background star 19,000 light-years from Earth toward the galactic center, amplifying starlight for 270 days. Astronomers have had trouble pinpointing their measurements because there is another bright star very close to the one they saw shining behind the black hole.
“It’s like trying to measure the tiny movement of a firefly next to a bright lightbulb,” Saho said in a statement. “We had to precisely subtract the light from a nearby bright star to accurately measure the deflection of the faint source.”
Saho’s team believes the object could be traveling at up to 99,419 miles per hour (160,000 kilometers per hour), faster than most stars in this part of the galaxy, while Lou and Lam’s team gave an estimate of 67,108 miles per hour (108,000 kilometers) came per hour). ).
More data and observations from Hubble, and more analysis, could settle the debate over the object’s identity. Astronomers continue to search for more of these invisible anomalies that could help them better understand how stars form and die.
“The finer lens allows us to examine and weigh these isolated, compressed objects. I think we opened a new window to these dark objects that you can’t see in any other way,” Lu said.
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