Black holes are among the most fascinating and mysterious objects in the known Universe. These gravitational beasts are formed when massive stars undergo gravitational collapse at the end of their lives and shatter their outer shells during a massive explosion known as a supernova.
Meanwhile, the stellar remnants become so dense that the curvature of space-time becomes infinite near them and the gravity so intense that nothing (not even light) can escape. That makes black holes impossible to observe with conventional optical telescopes that study objects in visible light.
As a result, astronomers usually look for black holes in non-visible wavelengths or by observing their effect on nearby objects.
A monstrous black hole right in our ‘cosmic backyard’
After analyzing the data from Gaia Data Release 3 (DR3), a team of astronomers coordinated by the University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH), the US recently spotted a black hole right in our “cosmic backyard.” As their study also shows, this monstrous black hole has a mass 12 times that of the Sun and is located 1,550 light-years away from Earth.
Because of its relatively small mass and distance, this black hole represents a tremendous opportunity for astrophysicists, according to Science Alert.
The study was coordinated by Dr. Sukanya Chakrabarti and included astronomers from numerous research institutions around the world. The work is to be published in Astrophysical Journal.
To find the black hole in question, Dr. Chakrabarti and his team analyzed data from Gaia DR3, which included information on nearly 200,000 binary stars observed by the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Gaia Observatory.
Why are black holes so interesting to astronomers?
Black holes are particularly interesting for astronomers because they offer the chance to study the laws of physics under the most extreme conditions. In some cases, such as the supermassive black holes at the center of massive galaxies, they play a vital role in galactic formation and evolution.
Even so, many questions remain unanswered, such as the role played by noninteracting black holes in the evolution of galaxies. These binary systems consist of a black hole and a star, a system in which the black hole does not attract material from its stellar companion.
According to current estimates, a million visible stars in our galaxy may have massive black holes accompanying them. While that’s a tiny fraction of the stellar population (about 100 billion stars), the researchers’ measurements have narrowed that search. So far, the Gaia Observatory has obtained data on the positions and motions of more than 1 billion astronomical objects, including stars and galaxies.