Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Hubble Space Telescope finds closest massive black hole to Earth — a cosmic clue frozen in time

Using the Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have discovered the closest massive black hole to Earth ever seen, a cosmic titan “frozen in time.” 

As an example of an elusive “intermediate-mass black hole,” the object could serve as a missing link in understanding the connection between stellar mass and supermassive black holes. The black hole appears to have a mass of around 8,200 suns, which makes it considerably more massive than stellar-mass black holes with masses between 5 and 100 times that of the sun, and much less massive than aptly named supermassive black holes, which have mass millions to billions that of the sun. The closest stellar-mass black hole scientists have found is called Gaia-BH1, and it sits only 1,560 light-years away from us.

The newly found intermediate-mass black hole, on the other hand, dwells in a spectacular collection of about ten million stars called Omega Centauri, which sits around 18,000 light-years from Earth.

(Image credit: ESA/Hubble/NASA/M.Haberle (MPIA))

Interestingly, the fact that the “frozen” black hole appears to have stunted its growth supports the idea that Omega Centauri is the remains of an ancient galaxy cannibalized by our own galaxy.

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