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Milky Way's Center Is a Black Hole 'Farm'

Researchers believe there are thousands
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 5, 2018 12:30 AM CDT
Study: Galaxy's Center Teems With Black Holes
This illustration provided by Columbia University shows the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A, located at the center of our galaxy, surrounded by a cloud of dust and gas within which are 12 smaller black holes, and a closeup of one of the systems.   (Columbia University via AP)

(Newser) – The center of our galaxy is teeming with black holes, sort of like a Times Square for strange super-gravity objects, astronomers have discovered. For decades, scientists theorized that circling in the center of galaxies, including ours, were lots of stellar black holes, collapsed giant stars where the gravity is so strong even light doesn't get out. But they hadn't seen evidence of them in the Milky Way core until now, the AP reports. Astronomers poring over old x-ray observations have found signs of a dozen black holes in the inner circle of the Milky Way. And since most black holes can't even be spotted that way, they calculate that there are likely thousands of them there. They estimate it could be about 10,000, maybe more, according to a study in the journal Nature .

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"There's lots of action going on there," says study lead author Chuck Hailey, a Columbia University astrophysicist. "The galactic center is a strange place. That's why people like to study it." The stellar black holes are in addition to—and essentially circling—the already known supermassive black hole, called Sagittarius A, that's parked at the center of the Milky Way. There are good reasons the Milky Way's black holes tend to be in the center of the galaxy, Hailey says. First, their mass tends to pull them to the center. But mostly the center of the galaxy is the perfect "hot house" for black hole formation, with lots of dust and gas. Hailey says it is "sort of like a little farm where you have all the right conditions to produce and hold on to a large number of black holes." (Another galaxy mysteriously seems to have no dark matter.)

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