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Earth’s ‘black hole police’ discover gravitational singularity near Milky Way

A team of international astronomers, known as “black hole police”, discovered a dormant dark hole right next to the Milky Way.

Karem El-Badry, of Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, was part of this team. He is known throughout the community for his work in debunking new gravitational singularities.

They found it this time, however, thanks to observations of the Tarantula Nebula (part of the Large Magellanic Cloud), our closest galactic neighbor.

Dr Tomer Shenar is a Marie Curie Fellow at Amsterdam University and led the study that was published in Nature Astronomy.

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The black hole was discovered by Dr Sehnar’s group from a star that vanished without any signs of a powerful explosion. He described it as “a needle in the haystack”.

Although scientists have suggested similar black holes candidates, the team believes this is the first “dormant”, stellar-mass blackhole to be clearly detected beyond the Milky Way galaxy.

The radiation levels from dormant black holes are low, so they don’t emit a lot of X-rays. This is how they are usually detected.

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When massive stars die, stellar-mass black hole formation occurs. They then collaps under their own gravity.

Binary star systems can have a black hole that orbits in a dance with its companion star. This is what the team believes they discovered thanks to observations by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) Very Large Telescope.

It has a mass at least nine times that of our Sun, and orbits a blue, hot star with a mass 25 times as large.

Image Jupiter, the Milky Way (brightest spot in centre-left) and the Small Magellanic Cloud at the bottom right

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Pablo Marchant, co-author at KU Leuven, stated that “it is amazing that we hardly know about any dormant dark holes, given how common astronomers believe they to be.”

Julia Bodensteiner (a research fellow at ESO Germany) said that they have been searching for black-hole-binary system for more than two decades.

“I was extremely excited to hear about VFTS 243. This is, in my opinion, the most convincing candidate reported to this point.”

Dr Shenar explained that the star that created the black hole in VFTS 243 seems to have completely collapsed, without any sign of an earlier explosion.

Although evidence for this scenario of ‘direct-collapse has been emerging in recent years, our study is arguably the best. This has huge implications for the origins of black-hole mergings in the cosmos.

According to the team, despite being called “black hole police”, they encourage peer review of their research.

They hope that it will aid other astronomers to discover similar stellar-mass dark holes orbiting massive stars. There are thousands of them, which they expect to find in both our galaxy and the Magellanic Clouds.

Dr El-Badry states, “Of course I expect others in this field to carefully examine our analysis, and to attempt to create alternative models.” It’s an exciting project to get involved in.

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