Astronomers reveal black hole closer to earth than ever before

Astronomers have made a groundbreaking discovery by detecting a dormant stellar-mass black hole, the closest to Earth yet found in the Milky Way. This first unequivocal detection of such a black hole presents an exciting opportunity for investigation, as it is only 1,600 light-years away and may provide insight into the evolution of binary systems.

The Gemini North Telescope in Hawaii reveals the first dormant black hole with stellar mass.

Astronomers have discovered the closest thing black hole to Earth, the first unequivocal detection of a dormant black hole with stellar mass in it The Milky Way. Its proximity to Earth, just 1,600 light-years away, offers an exciting study target to advance the understanding of the evolution of binary systems.

The US National Science Foundation provided support for the work. The astronomers used the Gemini North Telescope in Hawaii, operated by the NSF NOIRLabone of the twin telescopes of the International Gemini Observatory.

The discovery was made possible by making observations of the motion of the black hole’s companion, a sun-like star that orbits the black hole at about the same distance as Earth orbits the sun. Although there are likely millions of stellar-mass black holes in the Milky Way Galaxy, the few that have been discovered were revealed by their energetic interactions with a companion star. As material from a nearby star spirals toward the black hole, it becomes superheated and generates powerful X-rays and jets of material. If a black hole is not actively feeding, it is dormant and not directly detectable.

Artist's impression of the nearest black hole to earth and its sun-like companion star

Astronomers using the International Gemini Observatory, operated by NSF’s NOIRLab, have discovered the closest known black hole to Earth. This is the first unequivocal detection of a dormant stellar-mass black hole in the Milky Way. Its proximity to Earth, just 1600 light-years away, offers an exciting study target to further our understanding of the evolution of binary systems. Credit: International Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/J. da Silva/Spaceengine/M. Zamani

This dormant black hole is about 10 times more massive than the Sun and is located about 1,600 light-years away in the constellation Ophiuchus, making it three times closer to Earth than the previous record holder.

“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, an astrophysicist and lead author of a paper published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The team relied not only on Gemini North’s excellent observing capabilities, but also on Gemini’s ability to deliver data on a tight deadline, as the team only had a short window to conduct their follow-up observations.

“As part of a network of space and ground-based observatories, Gemini North has not only provided strong evidence of the closest black hole to date, but also the first pristine black hole system obscured by the usual hot gas interacting with the black hole,” said NSF Gemini Program Officer Martin Still.

For more on this research:

Reference: “A Sun-like Star Orbiting a Black Hole” by Kareem El-Badry, Hans-Walter Rix, Eliot Quataert, Andrew W Howard, Howard Isaacson, Jim Fuller, Keith Hawkins, Katelyn Breivik, Kaze WK Wong, Antonio C Rodriguez , Charlie Conroy, Sahar Shahaf, Tsevi Mazeh, Frédéric Arenou, Kevin B Burdge, Dolev Bashi, Simchon Faigler, Daniel R Weisz, Rhys Seeburger, Silvia Almada Monter and Jennifer Wojno, November 2, 2022, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
DOI: 10.1093/mnras/stac3140

The International Gemini Observatory is operated by a partnership of six countries: Canada, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Korea and the United States through the NSF. The University of Hawaii manages the Gemini North site.

Leave a Reply

Scroll to Top
%d bloggers like this: