Scientists Discover Exotic Black Hole Believed to Be a ‘Needle in a Haystack’

Scientists Discover Exotic Black Hole Believed to Be a ‘Needle in a Haystack’

An artist’s impression showing what the binary star system VFTS 243 might look like – containing a black hole and a large bright star orbiting each other – if we observed it up close is seen in this undated image. The system, which is located in the Tarantula Nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud galaxy, is made up of a hot, blue star with 25 times the mass of the sun and a black hole, which is at least nine times the mass of the sun. ESO/L. Calcada/Handout via REUTERS

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WASHINGTON, July 18 (Reuters) – Astronomers have spotted in a galaxy adjacent to our Milky Way what they call a “cosmic needle in a haystack” – a black hole that not only is classified as dormant, but appears to be born without the explosion of a dying star.

Researchers said on Monday that this one differs from all other known black holes in that it is “X-ray silent” – emitting no strong X-rays indicating it is engulfing nearby material with its strong gravitational pull – and that he was not born in a stellar explosion called a supernova.

Black holes are extraordinarily dense objects with such intense gravity that not even light can escape.

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This one, with a mass at least nine times greater than our sun, was detected in the Tarantula Nebula region of the Large Magellanic Cloud galaxy and is located about 160,000 light years from Earth. . A light year is the distance light travels in one year, 5.9 trillion miles (9.5 trillion km).

An extremely bright and hot blue star with a mass about 25 times that of the Sun orbits with this black hole in a stellar marriage. This so-called binary system is called VFTS 243. Researchers believe the companion star will also eventually become a black hole and may merge with the other.

Dormant black holes, considered relatively common, are difficult to detect because they interact very little with their environment. Many previously proposed candidates have been debunked by further study, including by members of the team that discovered this one.

“The challenge is to find these objects,” said Tomer Shenar, an astronomy researcher at the University of Amsterdam, lead author of the study published in the journal Nature Astronomy. “We identified a needle in a haystack.”

“This is the first such object discovered after astronomers searched for decades,” said astronomer and study co-author Kareem El-Badry of the Harvard & Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

The researchers used six years of observations from the Chile-based European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope.

There are different categories of black holes. Smaller ones, like the one just detected, are so-called stellar-mass black holes formed by the collapse of massive individual stars at the end of their life cycles. There are also intermediate-mass black holes as well as the huge supermassive black holes residing at the center of most galaxies.

“Black holes are inherently dark objects. They emit no light. Therefore, to detect a black hole, we typically look at binary systems in which we see a bright star moving around a second, undetected object” , said study co-author Julia Bodensteiner, a postdoctoral researcher at the European Southern Observatory in Munich.

It is generally assumed that the collapse of massive stars into black holes is associated with a powerful supernova explosion. In this case, a star about 20 times the mass of our sun blew some of its material out into space in its agony, then collapsed in on itself without an explosion.

The shape of its orbit with its companion offers proof of the absence of an explosion.

“The system’s orbit is almost perfectly circular,” Shenar said.

If a supernova had occurred, the force of the explosion would have kicked the newly formed black hole in a random direction and produced an elliptical rather than circular orbit, Shenar added.

Black holes can be ruthlessly voracious, gobbling up any material – gas, dust and stars – that strays into their gravitational pull.

“Black holes can only be ruthlessly voracious if there is something close enough to them that they can devour. Usually we detect them if they receive material from a companion star, a process that we call accretion,” Bodensteiner said.

Shenar added: “In so-called dormant black hole systems, the companion is far enough away that material does not accumulate around the black hole to heat up and emit X-rays. Instead, it is immediately swallowed by the black hole.

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Reporting by Will Dunham, editing by Rosalba O’Brien

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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