Scientists Just Found Closest Black Hole to Earth

'Washington, DC, would quite easily fit into the black hole'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 7, 2020 3:40 PM CDT
This Is the Closest Black Hole to Earth
This illustration provided by the European Southern Observatory shows the orbits of the objects in the HR 6819 triple system. The group is made up of an inner binary with one star, orbit in blue, and a newly discovered black hole, orbit in red, as well as a third star in a wider orbit, blue.   (L. Cal?ada/ESO via AP)

(Newser) – Meet your new but shy galactic neighbor: A black hole left over from the death of a fleeting young star, per the AP. European astronomers have found the closest black hole to Earth yet, so near that the two stars dancing with it can be seen by the naked eye. Of course, close is relative on the galactic scale. This black hole is about 1,000 light-years away and each light-year is 5.9 trillion miles. But in terms of the cosmos and even the galaxy, it is in our neighborhood, said European Southern Observatory astronomer Thomas Rivinius, who led the study published Wednesday in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics. The previous closest black hole is probably about three times further, about 3,200 light-years. The new discovery, in the constellation Telescopium in the Southern Hemisphere, hints that there are more of these out there.

Astronomers found this one because of the unusual orbit of a star. The black hole is part of what used to be a three-star dance in a system called HR6819. The two remaining super-hot stars aren't close enough to be sucked in, but the inner star's orbit is warped. Using a telescope in Chile, they confirmed that there was something about four or five times the mass of our sun pulling on the inner star. It could only be a black hole, they concluded. “It will motivate additional searches among bright, relatively nearby stars,” said Ohio State University astronomer Todd Thompson, who wasn’t part of the research. Like most of these type of black holes this one is tiny, maybe 25 miles in diameter. “Washington, DC, would quite easily fit into the black hole, and once it went in it, would never come back,” said study co-author Dietrich Baade.

(Read more black hole stories.)

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