Scientists have discovered a black hole located outside our galaxy after studying the way it influenced a nearby star.
Research into the object was led by Sara Saracino, from the Astrophysics Research Institute of Liverpool John Moores University in the UK, who worked with a team of scientists who have said the black hole could be the first of many hidden in the Milky Way and other galaxies.
Scientists were alerted to the existence of the black hole through observations at the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope after spotting the way it was affecting the motion of the nearby star, which is roughly five times the size of our sun, in a cluster dubbed NGC1850.
The discovery marked the first time this detection method has been used to reveal a black hole outside our own galaxy.
Explaining the process that led to the discovery of the black hole, per The Independent, Saracino commented:
Similar to Sherlock Holmes tracking down a criminal gang from their missteps, we are looking at every single star in this cluster with a magnifying glass in one hand trying to find some evidence for the presence of black holes but without seeing them directly.
The result shown here represents just one of the wanted criminals, but when you have found one, you are well on your way to discovering many others, in different clusters.
Similar small black holes have previously been discovered by looking for the X-rays that come out as they absorb the matter, or the gravitational waves that result when they collide with other black holes, but as most black holes don’t do either, many still remain hidden.
Stefan Dreizler, a team member from the University of Göttingen in Germany, stressed the ‘vast majority’ of black holes can ‘only be unveiled dynamically’, but added: ‘When they form a system with a star, they will affect its motion in a subtle but detectable way, so we can find them with sophisticated instruments.’
The discovery of more small black holes such as this one will hopefully allow scientists to compare them with larger and more mature black holes, potentially providing insight into how the mysterious objects evolve and grow over time.
A paper describing the findings of Saracino’s team has been accepted for publication in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
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