Warning: A rogue patch of spacetime has been found wandering the Milky Way – a possible sign of a black hole.
Using ground-breaking microlensing equipment, astronomers have detected a rogue black hole roaming the Milky Way galaxy.
Black holes abound in space, with NASA predicting that there are between 10 million and one billion stellar-mass black holes. Scientists, on the other hand, have a hard time counting them because they are difficult to detect unless they can catch any passing material in their gravitational field.
Now, a multinational team of researchers has discovered a lone, dormant black hole just under 5,200 light-years away, firmly within the Milky Way galaxy’s boundaries.
The scientists’ discovery, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, has been posted to the arXiv preprint.
Black holes cannot be directly observed, thus this one was researched via observing its impact on the surrounding space.
As this black hole was quiescent, or inactive, it had a powerful gravitational influence on anything that passed through it, bending and twisting any light that passed through it.
This phenomenon, known as gravitational microlensing, was used to locate small, dim objects that would have been difficult to detect with today’s telescopes.
This research is significant since it is the first time we’ve ever witnessed a single black hole.
The astronomers, led by the Space Telescope Science Institute’s Kailash Sahu, said:
“We report the first unambiguous detection and mass measurement of an isolated stellar-mass black hole.
“We show that the lens emits no detectable light, which, along with having a mass higher than is possible for a white dwarf or neutron star, confirms its black hole nature.”
According to physicist David Kahana, “Black holes are not like vacuum cleaners.
“They don’t actually suck on the matter near to them and pull it in: they exert gravity and tides on the matter near to them and their rotation also has an effect.”
Gas and stars, on the other hand, can be in a stable orbit around a black hole for a very long time if they are far enough away.
According to Mr Kahana: “If that’s the case for all the gas and stars nearby, then an active black hole will become quiescent – there would be a long period when nothing happens.
“It just sits there and the matter orbits around again and again. It’s called quiescent or dormant during this phase.”
Einstein predicted gravitational microlensing in 1936 using his General Theory of Relativity.
When a gravitationally fielded object, such as a star, passes almost perfectly in front of a distant star, this effect happens.
Because of the gravitational “attraction” of the foreground star, the light rays of the background source star bend.
This intensifies the light and somewhat alters the apparent position of the faraway star.
Image Credit: Getty
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