Tug of War

Watch: Black hole 11 times bigger than the Sun discovered among young stars

Come out, come out, wherever you are!

ESO, N. Risinger (skysurvey.org), DSS, NASA/ESA/M. Romaniello

ESO, N. Risinger (skysurvey.org), DSS, NASA/ESA/M. Romaniello

Spotting a black hole in the vast depths of space is no simple task.

How do you locate a region where light can’t escape?

Astronomers have to look at objects around a black hole to determine its presence.

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Black holes influence the motion of other objects in their vicinity.

But they can be tough to locate if they’re small.

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ESO/M. Kornmesser

But 160,000 light years away in a cluster full of stars, astronomers were able to spot a small black hole nestled among bright bodies.

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They analyzed two years of data from the ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile, and described their discovery in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Society on November 11.

NGC 1850, where the black hole lives, is a relatively young super star cluster where no black holes have been found before.

By tracking the movement of a nearby star, researchers were able to deduce that the black hole was influencing its orbit.

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ESO, N. Risinger (skysurvey.org), DSS, NASA/ESA/M. Romaniello

For scale, the black hole is about 11 times the mass of our Sun.

Here’s a visualization of the process the researchers used to detect its presence.

ESO/L. Calçada, NASA/ESA/M. Romaniello. Acknowledgement: J.C. Muñoz-Mateos

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The discovery could help researchers uncover even more black holes in neighboring clusters and even in our Milky Way.

Sara Saracino, the study’s lead author, compares the search for black holes to Sherlock Holmes hunting down suspects.

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“We are looking at every single star in this cluster with a magnifying glass in one hand trying to find some evidence for the presence of black holes but without seeing them directly.”

Sara Saracino

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