Like lonely travelers wandering across the vastness of space.
Wandering Jupiter-sized Black Hole Discovered in the Milky Way
A team of astronomers from the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan has announced a rare and unsettling discovery: a black hole the size of Jupiter roaming across the Milky Way galaxy.
The Different Categories of Black Holes
Black holes are categorized based on their dimensions. The smallest black holes, spanning only a few kilometers in diameter, form after a star’s gravitational collapse and are typically identified as part of double-star systems. The largest black holes, with masses equivalent to millions or even billions of suns, are believed to exist at the center of most galaxies. Lastly, there are “middleweight” black holes.
Mysterious Middleweight Black Holes
These rare black holes have dimensions similar to a planet or a star’s size. Unlike the other two categories, middleweight black holes wander alone through space, not part of binary systems. They can only be seen when they encounter and begin to devour material, such as a gas cloud or a star.
A Rare Discovery: A Roaming Black Hole
Astronomer Shunya Takekawa and colleagues observed undulations in a cloud of interstellar gas, suggesting the presence of an intermediate-mass black hole traversing through it. The astronomers studied gas currents orbiting an invisible gravitational source located approximately 26,000 light-years from the Milky Way’s center.
Using the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) telescope in Chile, the team determined the cloud’s shape, consisting of a central accumulation of gas surrounded by weaker currents. Astrophysicist Shunya Takekawa of the NAOJ told New Scientist, “I was really excited because the observed gas showed obvious orbital motions, which strongly suggest a massive invisible object lurking.”
The Stealthy Nature of Wandering Black Holes
Takekawa noted that these types of black holes move relatively fast compared to the surrounding gas, absorbing only a small portion of it and thus producing very little light. He estimates that this particular black hole will likely take about 10,000 years to consume all the gas that revealed its position.
The Challenge of Detecting Roaming Black Holes
It is believed that the universe hosts countless “invisible monsters” roaming different galaxies. However, they are nearly impossible to detect unless they interact with nearby matter, as is the case with this newly discovered black hole. The paper detailing the discovery can be found on arXiv.
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