Science

Closest black hole to Earth has two partners

Closest black hole to Earth has two partners”

"We realised that one could not describe what we saw with just two stars", said Dietrich Baade, an emeritus astronomer with ESO and a co-author of the study.
In the past century, not only have astronomers shown that black holes do exist, but they've found dozens in our own galaxy. Along with the creation of a glowing accretion disk, these monumental interactions can cause black holes to let off fantastic bursts of X-ray light, which are visible to certain observatories. The star system was only spotted after two companion stars provided researchers with information on its whereabouts. "It's impressive that they managed to find a new black hole candidate hiding in plain sight around such a bright and well-studied star", Kareem El-Badry, Ph.D. student in the UC Berkeley Department of Astronomy who was not involved in the study, told Gizmodo in an email. The innermost star orbits with the singularity once every 40 days, while the outer star tracks a more distant path around the central pair.

Scientists first made observations of this star system back in 2004, figuring that it was a pretty typical pair of stars orbited by a third star.

Unlike most of the others that have been detected, the one in HR 6819 does not react violently with outside matter, the observatory said.

The singularity located in the HR 6819 system is rare even among stellar-mass black holes, in that it is interacting peacefully with its environment.

HR-6819-NightSky-eso2007b
The location of HR 6819 in the southern constellation of Telescopium. Credits ESO IAU and Sky & Telescope

Black holes are the by-products of ageing stars that exploded in spectacular fashion at the end of their lifetime.

But don't worry: while 1,000 light-years is cosmically close, it's still a huge distance and this black hole poses no danger to Earth. Now, the discovery of a silent, invisible black hole in HR 6819 can help astronomers find where other silent black holes might be found. "An invisible object with a mass at least four times that of the sun can only be a black hole".

"There must be hundreds of millions of black holes out there, but we know about only very few", ESO scientist Thomas Rivinius said in a statement.

Astronomers will now focus their telescopes on another system, called LB-1, that has the potential to be a triple system. The mass of the object gave away its identity as a black hole. The authors behind the newest work contend that LB-1 has a black hole that's much less massive than original estimates, while Eldridge thinks that neither system contains a black hole. Located in the constellation of Telescopium, the system in which it was discovered is so close to us that it can be viewed from the southern hemisphere on a dark, clear night with the naked eye. You might just be looking at a black hole.

More news: Fifteen migrant workers run over by a cargo train in India



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