Newly discovered black hole closest to Earth

This illustration provided by the European Southern Observatory in May 2020 shows the orbits of the objects in the HR 6819

This illustration provided by the European Southern Observatory in May 2020 shows the orbits of the objects in the HR 6819

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Researchers have discovered a black hole 1,000 light-years from Earth, the closest one known so far.

By nature, black holes are impossible to see directly.

In follow-up work to the study, Petr Hadrava aims to find out more about the light being given off by HR 6819 and in-process find out the identities of the two stars.

By observing these hidden leviathans, astronomers can glean insights into the creation and evolution of the stars that collapsed to create the black holes that we, well, don't see today.

An artist's impression depicts the orbits of the two stars and the black hole in the HR 6819 triple system, made up of an inner binary with one star (orbit in blue) and a newly discovered black hole (orbit in red), as well as a third star in a wider orbit (also in blue), in this image released on May 6, 2020. Astronomers have discovered a black hole, lurking among the stars, which is now officially the closest to Earth.

Although the black hole itself is invisible, it has two bright accompanying stars, making the "triple system" appear as a single bright star through a telescope. However, as they analysed their observations, they were stunned when they revealed a third, previously undiscovered body in HR 6819. These two stars can be spotted in the constellation Telescopium.

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The singularity located in the HR 6819 system is rare even among stellar-mass black holes, in that it is interacting peacefully with its environment. "On the scale of the Milky Way, it's in our backyard, nearly at our doorstep", study author Dietrich Baade, emeritus astronomer at European Southern Observatory, told Gizmodo.

What is a black hole?

University of Auckland associate professor JJ Eldridge told Gizmodo in an email that she didn't feel the analysis was enough to claim the detection of a black hole. So scientists are continually learning more about these objects and refining black holes' known properties, particularly mass, as telescopes gather more evidence.

There are a number of black holes in the Milky Way galaxy, but the discovery of this one, 1,000 light-years away, suggests there could be many more than have yet to be discovered.

"There must be hundreds of millions of black holes out there, but we know about only very few", ESO scientist Thomas Rivinius said in a statement. "Knowing what to look for should put us in a better position to find them", Rivinius added.

The discovery could help study an unusual system in the constellation Gemini, called LB-1.

"We realised that another system, called LB-1, may also be such a triple, though we'd need more observations to say for sure", said Dr. Marianne Heida, a postdoctoral researcher at ESO.

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