A new study claims that the distance between Earth and the black hole that is currently known to exist is only 1,560 light years. The black hole, which has been given the name Gaia BH1, has a mass that is around ten times that of the sun and orbits a star that is similar to the sun.
The majority of known black holes grab gas from large companion stars, which they then consume. This gas condenses into a disk that encircles the black hole and emits a brilliant X-ray light. However, starving black holes do not make up the majority of those seen in our galaxy. Astronomers have been hoping for decades to discover peaceful black holes that are not in the middle of devouring something when they look for them, but these types of black holes are far more common. The assertions made in the past regarding the discovery of such black holes have not been validated as of yet (SN: 5/6/20; SN: 3/11/22).
Because of this, astronomer Kareem El-Badry and his colleagues turned to freshly available data from the Gaia spacecraft, which precisely records the positions of billions of stars (SN: 6/13/22). A star that orbits a black hole at a safe distance will not be consumed by the black hole’s gravity, but the star will still be dragged back and forth by the gravity. Astronomers are able to observe the movement of the star and infer the existence of the black hole.
Only one of the hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of stars that appeared to be being pulled in a certain direction by an unknown force appeared to have the potential to become a black hole. The team announces their findings supporting the black hole idea in the November 2 issue of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. These findings were based on follow-up observations with different telescopes.
The next closest black hole to Earth, known as Gaia BH2, is around 3,200 light-years away. Gaia BH1 is the black hole that has been found to be the closest to Earth. However, it is highly unlikely that this is the closest that can be found or that it will ever be the closest that we discover. In the Milky Way, astronomers estimate that there are over 100 million black holes; however, almost all of them are hidden from view. According to El-Badry of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, “They’re just isolated, so we can’t see them.”
El-Badry anticipates that the subsequent data release from Gaia, which is scheduled to take place in 2025, will contain additional black hole treasure. According to what he has said, “we think there are probably a bunch that are closer.” “The discovery of only one… lends credence to the idea that there are many more waiting to be discovered.”