A hitherto undiscovered black hole announces its presence to astronomers when it ripped apart and devoured a star that wandered too close to it.
In an event called a Tidal Disruption Event, an intermediate-mass black hole in a dwarf galaxy a million light-years from Earth tore the star apart (TDE). The TDE was seen when it sent out a powerful flare of radiation that briefly made it brighter than all the stars in its dwarf galaxy home.
This TDE could help scientists learn more about how galaxies and the black holes inside them work together. It also gives astronomers another black hole in the middle to study. “This discovery has gotten a lot of people excited because we can use tidal disruption events to find more intermediate-mass black holes in quiet dwarf galaxies and measure their masses,” said Ryan Foley, a co-author of the study and an astronomer at UC Santa Cruz (UCSC).
The TDE Flare
Astronomers first saw the TDE flare, which they named AT 2020neh, when the black hole first started to eat the star. They did this by using the Young Supernova Experiment (YSE), a survey that looks for short-lived cosmic events like supernova explosions.
Seeing this first moment of destruction was important because it helped an international team led by UCSC scientists and Niels Bohr Institute astronomer Charlotte Angus figure out that the black hole was between 100,000 and 1 million times as heavy as the sun.
TDEs have been used successfully in the past to measure the mass of supermassive black holes, but this is the first time that they have been shown to work to measure the masses of smaller black holes with intermediate masses.
This means that the first sighting of the very fast AT 2020neh flare could be used in the future to measure the masses of midsized black holes.
“The fact that we were able to catch this medium-sized black hole as it ate a star gave us a unique chance to see something that would have been hidden to us otherwise,” Angus said. “What’s more, we can use the properties of the flare itself to learn more about this elusive group of middle-weight black holes, which could make up most of the black holes in the centres of galaxies.”
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Black hole Announces Its Presence To Astronomers
Black hole Announces Its Presence To Astronomers: Astronomers found a black hole tearing a star apart 850 million light years away in the galaxy SDSS J152120.07+140410.5. Scientists used NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to look at the aftermath, which is called AT 2020neh and is in the middle of the picture. With Hubble’s ultraviolet camera, scientists saw a ring of stars forming around the centre of the galaxy where AT 2020neh is. (Photo by RYAN FOLEY/UC SANTA CRUZ, NASA, and ESA)
This class of black holes is between 100 and 100,000 times the mass of the sun. This makes them much bigger than stellar-mass black holes but much smaller than the supermassive black holes that are at the centre of most galaxies, including the Milky Way.
Scientists have long thought that the huge masses of supermassive black holes, which can be millions or even billions of times the mass of the sun, could come from the merging of black holes with intermediate masses.
One idea about what could have caused this growth is that there were a lot of dwarf galaxies with intermediate black holes in the early universe.
— SPACE.com (@SPACEdotcom) November 10, 2022
As these small galaxies merged or were eaten by bigger galaxies, the black holes in the middle of them ate each other, making them bigger. This chain of mergers that got bigger over time would eventually lead to the supermassive black holes at the centre of most galaxies today.
Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz, a co-author and professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UCSC, said, “If we can figure out how many intermediate-mass black holes are out there and where they are, we can figure out if our theories about how supermassive black holes form are right.”
One question about this theory of how black holes grow is whether or not all dwarf galaxies have their own black hole with an intermediate mass.
This is hard to answer because black holes block out light behind a boundary called the “event horizon.” This means that they are effectively invisible unless they are eating gas and dust nearby or ripping apart stars in TDEs.
Astronomers can also figure out if there are black holes by looking at things like how stars that orbit them are affected by their gravity. At the moment, however, these methods are not sensitive enough to be used to find black holes far away in the centres of dwarf galaxies.
Because of this, not many medium-sized black holes have been found in dwarf galaxies. This means that TDE flares like AT 2020neh could help settle the debate about how supermassive black holes grow by helping us find and measure mid-sized black holes.
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Where is the closest black hole?
Gaia BH1 is the black hole that is closest to Earth. The next closest one is about 3,200 light-years away. But it’s probably not the closest we’ll ever find or even the closest that exists. Astronomers think that the Milky Way has about 100 million black holes, but almost all of them are invisible.
Is there a black hole near Earth?
Astronomers have found a black hole that is closer to Earth than any other black hole they have seen before. It’s about ten times as big as our sun and only 1,600 light-years away, which isn’t too far away in the grand scheme of things.
How far is the black hole from Earth?
In November 2022, NOIRLab made this picture of the closest black hole to Earth and its sun-like companion star.
Astronomers have found the black hole that is the closest to Earth. It is only 1,600 light-years away. Scientists said Friday that this black hole is 10 times more massive than our sun. And it’s three times closer than the previous record.
Jessa Martin is the author of Nogmagazine, A professional in writing by day, and novelist by night, she received her bachelor of arts in film from Howard University and her master of arts in media studies from the New School. A Brooklyn native, she is a lover of naps, cookie dough, and beaches, currently residing in the borough she loves, most likely multitasking.