An illustration of a stellar-mass black hole in deep space. Depositphotos.

Astronomers Find the Closest Black Hole to Earth

Using Hawaii's Gemini North telescope, astronomers have discovered a black hole that is only 1,600 light-years away from Earth.


Utilizing Hawaii’s Gemini North telescope, astronomers have discovered a black hole that is only 1,600 light-years away from Earth. According to NoirLab, which operates the telescope, this is the first detection of a stellar-mass black hole in the Milky Way, which offers an ideal study target to advance the understanding of binary systems. A black hole is the most extreme object in the Universe. The centers of all large galaxies are likely to have supermassive versions of these unimaginably dense objects. In the Milky Way alone, there are estimated to be 100 million stellar-mass black holes. These weigh five to 100 times that of the Sun.


To date, only a few black holes have been confirmed, and nearly all of them are active, which means they consume material from nearby stellar companions, unlike dormant black holes.  The black hole recently found by scientists is a dormant black hole. It is dubbed BH1. Located in the constellation Ophiuchus, the black hole is ten times as massive as the Sun. With 1,600 light-years from Earth, it is three times closer than the previous record holder, an X-ray binary in the constellation Monoceros. A Sun-like star orbiting the black hole at roughly the same distance as Earth from the Sun led to the discovery. Analysis of data from the Gaia spacecraft initially revealed that the system might harbor a black hole.


A black hole ten times more massive than the sun

The star’s motion had been disturbed by the gravitational pull of an object. It was both invisible and massive. Astrophysicist Kareem El-Badry, of Harvard & Smithsonian and the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy and his team explored the system in greater detail by using Gemini North’s Multi-Object Spectrograph instrument. They were able to identify the central body as a black hole ten times more massive than the sun and were able to make follow-up observations.

We found that the binary contains at least one dormant black hole and a normal star through Gemini follow-up observations, El-Badry explained. “We could find no plausible astrophysical scenario that can explain the observed orbit of the system that doesn’t involve at least one black hole.” In addition to Gemini North’s excellent observational capabilities, the team also relied on Gemini to deliver data within a short period of time. This si because the team had only a short window to follow up on their observations.


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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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