Astronomers discover the closest black hole to Earth

The constellation Aquila (center) surrounded by Scutum and its star cloud (below) and Serpens and Ophiuchus (right to the west).  Altair is the bright star left of center, with Tarazed above.  Albireo in Cygnus is at the very top Above Aquila and below Albireo are the smaller constellations of Sagitta, Vulpecula and Delphinus (the latter on the left).  The Coathanger asterism is visible high up in the Milky Way, as are the large open clusters IC 4756 and NGC 6633, the SO double cluster, to the right straddling the Serpens-Ophiuchus boundary.

The black hole is in the constellation of Ophiuchus (right in the west) (Getty)

Astronomers have found the closest black hole to Earth. But don’t worry, our planet isn’t about to be sucked in, because it’s 1,600 light years away.

Astronomers using the Gemini North Telescope in Hawaii – one of the Gemini International Observatory’s twin telescopes – have spotted the black hole which researchers have dubbed Gaia BH1.

This dormant black hole is about 10 times larger than the sun and is located in the constellation of Ophiuchus.

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It is three times closer to Earth than the previous record holder, an X-ray binary in the constellation of Monoceros.

The new discovery was made possible by making exquisite observations of the motion of the black hole’s companion, a sun-like star that orbits the black hole at roughly the same distance as 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 get this system,” explained Kareem El-Badry, astrophysicist at the Center for Astrophysics, Harvard & Smithsonian. and the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy and lead author of the paper describing the discovery.

“While there have been many claimed detections of systems like this, almost all of these discoveries have subsequently been disproved.

“This is the first unambiguous detection of a sun-like star in a wide orbit around a stellar-mass black hole in our galaxy.”

Black holes are the most extreme objects in the universe. Supermassive versions of these incredibly dense objects likely reside at the center of all major galaxies.

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Stellar-mass black holes – which weigh around five to 100 times the mass of the sun – are far more common, with around 100 million in the Milky Way alone.

Although there are likely millions of stellar-mass black holes roaming the Milky Way galaxy, those that have been detected have been discovered through their energetic interactions with a companion star.

“I have searched for dormant black holes over the past four years using a wide range of datasets and methods,” El-Badry said.

“My previous attempts – and those of others – have revealed a menagerie of binary systems masquerading as black holes, but this is the first time the search has paid off.”

The team initially identified the system as potentially hosting a black hole by analyzing data from the European Space Agency’s Gaia spacecraft.

“Our Gemini tracking observations have confirmed beyond reasonable doubt that the binary contains a normal star and at least one dormant black hole,” El-Badry explained.

“We were unable to find any plausible astrophysical scenario that could explain the system’s observed orbit that does not involve at least one black hole.”

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