New planets and stars are not the only things that our latest space exploration missions have found. As a matter of fact, astronomers report that they have just found an incognito black hole—the first ever discovered—and they believe it could the first of millions of others hiding in our Milky Way galaxy alone.
According to the study, the researchers found this hidden black hole around a bright spot called VLA J213002.08+120904, in our galaxy. Until now, astronomers believed this clump of bright radio waves was just a simple glow from a distant galaxy. New distance measurements, however—thanks to new technology—shows that this black hole is actually only about 7,200 lights years away from Earth; that puts it well within the limits of the Milky Way.
With this new measurement, then, the researchers looked a little closer to find it emits a faint amount of X-rays. This, they say, suggest that it contains a black hole that is only very slowly taking in the material form a nearby star. This, of course, is atypical black hole behavior and, more importantly, serves to explain why astronomers missed it.
“Usually, we find black holes when they are pulling in lots of material,” explains lead study author Bailey Tetarenko. “Before falling into the black hole this material gets very hot and emits brightly in X-rays. This one is so quiet that it’s practically a stealth black hole.”
What makes this discovery unique is that this is the very first time one of these “stealth” black holes—and its companion star—have been found outside dense patches of stars, which we know as globular clusters. However, space research is always limited to small patches of sky at a time and, in this case, the find suggests there may be millions more such relationships.
Accordingly, study co-author Arash Bahramian notes, “Unless we were incredibly lucky to find one source like this in a small patch of the sky, there must be many more of these black hole binaries in our galaxy than we used to think.”
In addition, study co-author Robin Arnason, of Western University in Canada, notes that there are a few other implications for findings VLA J2130+12 much closer to us. He says, “Some of these undiscovered black holes could be closer to the Earth than we previously thought. However there’s no need to worry as even these black holes would still be many light years away from Earth.”
Obviously, this will lead to more research, which could lead to some of the most significant black hole research of late.