Our Milky Way galaxy contains hundreds of billions of stars and about one hundred million black holes. In other words, if humanity will truly be able one day to roam across vast distances of our galaxy, watching our step will be crucially important. Black holes have such huge gravity that not even light can escape if it comes too close.
Surely we all like to believe that our planet is located very far away from the closest black hole that exists out there. But is that really the truth, and can we all sleep well at night, or at least have to worry about other possible disastrous events? Thanks to the new work of a team of astronomers who had been using the Gemini North telescope from Hawai’i, meaning one of the twin telescopes of the International Gemini Observatory, we have a pretty interesting answer.
Gaia BH1 is the closest black hole to Earth
Gaia BH1 is the name of the closest black hole to our planet, as it’s located only 1,600 light-years away from us, as Phys.org reveals. Gaia BH1 is considered a dormant black hole, and it has its location in the Ophiuchus constellation, to be more precise. That’s the name of what is considered a large constellation from the celestial equator.
However, the fact that Gaia BH1 is so close to Earth isn’t the only amazing thing about the cosmic object. Kareem El-Badry, the lead author of the new research paper and also an astrophysicist at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian and the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, explains more as Phys.org quotes:
Take the solar system, put a black hole where the sun is, and the sun where the Earth is, and you get this system,
While there have been many claimed detections of systems like this, almost all these discoveries have subsequently been refuted. This is the first unambiguous detection of a sun-like star in a wide orbit around a stellar-mass black hole in our galaxy.
But that’s not all, as the Universe constantly finds ways to amaze us all. There’s no wonder why black holes remain the most mysterious cosmic objects in the Universe. Check out another interesting statement issued by the same El-Badry, as quoted by the same source as above:
I’ve been searching for dormant black holes for the last four years using a wide range of datasets and methods,
My previous attempts—as well as those of others—turned up a menagerie of binary systems that masquerade as black holes, but this is the first time the search has borne fruit.
One thousand six hundred light-years might sound like nothing at a cosmic scale, but the distance is still not vast enough to make us worry about the Gaia BH1 black hole. There is no chance of Earth getting into contact with the cosmic monster, at least in the near future.
Back in early September, we shared the quite intriguing new perspective that an astronomer has over black holes. Rebecca Smethurst, who is commonly known as Dr. Becky, explains that we shouldn’t consider black holes as “holes” in her book called “A Brief History of Black Holes.” She explains that black holes are actually chunks of matter getting crushed into a very small amount of space that is also extremely dense.
Dr. Becky also tries to answer one of the most common questions about these cosmic monsters: what’s inside them? Her explanations are very compelling, which is why it’s highly recommended to listen to her.
The Gaia BH1 black hole is about three times closer to Earth compared to what was known previously as the closest black hole to us.