They detect a star similar to the sun that is close to a black hole

Scientists say these findings from Gaia BH1 could constitute the first black hole in the Milky Way that was not observed based on its X-ray emissions or other energetic releases.

Courtesy RT in Spanish | Some phases of the investigation remain to be completed.

An international team of astronomers analyzed the data obtained by the Gaia probe of the European Space Agency (ESA) and discovered a star similar to the Sun with strange orbital characteristics.

The researchers concluded that the star must be part of a binary system with a black hole of about 10 solar masses. If so, this newly found hole would be the closest to our solar system and implies the existence of a considerable population of inactive black holes in our galaxy, reports the Universe Today portal.

The Gaia project, which aims to build the most accurate 3D space catalog ever created, has spent nearly a decade measuring the positions, distances, and proper motions of nearly 1 billion astronomical objects, including stars, planets, comets, asteroids, and galaxies. (a technique known as ‘astrometry’).

The discovery

The research was led by Kareem El-Badry, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in the US.

For their purposes, El-Badry and his colleagues examined the 168,065 stars in the Gaia project database (GDR3) that appeared to have two-body orbits.

Their analysis found a particularly promising candidate, a G-type (yellow star) that the team named ‘Gaia BH1’. Based on its observed orbital solution, El-Badry and colleagues determined that this star must have a black hole binary companion.

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As El-Badry explained to Universe Today, these observations were part of a larger campaign to identify dormant black holes that accompany normal stars in the Milky Way.

“I have been searching for dormant black holes for the past four years using a wide range of data sets and methods,” he said. “My previous attempts yielded a diverse collection of binaries masquerading as black holes, but this was the first time the search paid off,” he added.

The analyzed data provided evidence as to the way the star moves in the sky, tracing an ellipse as it orbits the black hole. The size of the orbit and its period gave them an estimate of the mass of its unseen companion: “approximately 10 solar masses,” El-Badry explained.

“To confirm that the Gaia solution is correct and to rule out alternatives other than black holes, we observed the star spectroscopically with other telescopes. This tightened our restrictions on the mass of the companion and showed that it is indeed ‘dark,’” she concluded.

hidden black holes

“Models predict that the Milky Way contains about 100 million black holes. But we’ve only seen about 20 of them. All the previous ones we’ve observed are in X-ray binaries: the black hole is eating a companion star, and it glows brightly in X-rays as the gravitational potential energy of that material is converted to light,” El-Badry explained.

“But this only represents the tip of the iceberg: a much larger population may be lurking, hidden in more widely separated binaries. The discovery of Gaia BH1 sheds light on this population.”

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Scientists say these findings from Gaia BH1 could constitute the first black hole in the Milky Way that was not observed based on its X-ray emissions or other energetic releases.

If confirmed, these findings could mean there is a robust population of dormant black holes in the Milky Way. This refers to black holes that are not evident from bright disks, radiation bursts, or hypervelocity jets emanating from their poles (as is often the case with quasars).

There is still a lot of research ahead

If these objects are present in many parts of our galaxy, the implications for stellar and galactic evolution could be profound. However, it is possible that this particular dormant black hole is an outlier and not indicative of a larger population.

“With just one object, it’s hard to know exactly what it implies about the population (it could just be a freak, a fluke). We are excited about the population demographic studies that we will be able to do with larger samples.”

To verify their findings, El-Badry and colleagues look forward to the publication of the fourth (GDR 4) and the fifth and final version (GDR 5) of the Gaia project data.

“Based on the rate of occurrence of BH companions implied by Gaia BH1, we estimate that the next release of Gaia data will allow the discovery of dozens of similar systems,” he concluded.

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