Astronomers find the closest black hole to Earth, call it “Unicorn”

Scientists have found a black hole that is not only the smallest ever discovered, but also the closest to Earth.

The black hole is located inside the Milky Way – and is 1,500 light-years from here, in a constellation called Monoceros – from the Greek “one-horned rhino”. As a sign of the uniquely compact size of the black hole and the name of the constellation, scientists have called it “Unicorn. “

And while black holes are quite common in the universe, as are their findings, what makes this one unique is that it has been so close to us, yet it has managed to remain unnoticed. Scientists reportedly never paid much attention because they didn’t think a black hole could be that small – black holes generally have a solar mass (a unit of measurement) of 5 or greater – meaning they are at least five times the mass of the sun. The Unicorn, on the other hand, it is only 3 solar masses, or three times the mass of the sun.

“When we looked at the data, this black hole – the Unicorn – just turned up, “Tharindu Jayasinghe, who is pursuing his Ph.D. from the Ohio State University astronomy department in the US, and led the study, he told the press.

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In the past, scientists had noticed a giant red star in the sky being dragged by something – as if it were “dancing with an invisible partner,” wrote Jonathan O’Callaghan, a science journalist in Quanta Magazine. However, no one besides Jayasingle stopped to think that this invisible partner could really be a black hole.

Soon to be published in Royal Astronomical Society Monthly Notices, the study focused on this “invisible partner” armed with Jayasighe’s hypothesis and analyzed data from a wide range of telescopes and satellites. Based on the red star’s speed, its orbital period, and the gravitational pull it appeared to undergo, the researchers concluded that it could be a black hole and determined its curious solar mass.

“Just as the moon’s gravity distorts Earth’s oceans, causing the seas to swell towards and away from the moon, producing high tides, so the black hole distorts the star into a football-like shape with an axis longer than the moon. other, “Todd Thompson, a professor of astronomy at Ohio State University who is a co-author of the study, said in a statement.

“The simplest explanation is that it’s a black hole,” he added, “and in this case, the simplest explanation is the most likely one.”