The recent discovery of the closest black hole to Earth just 1,600 light-years away, and roughly 10 times as massive as the sun, suggests that there might be more like this one in our galaxy from which to learn.
“We think there are probably a lot that are closer,” states Kareem El-Badry, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. “It poses many questions including how many of these dormant black holes there are out there.”
The Ophiuchus constellation drew attention since a star was moving unexpectedly due to the gravity of a massive object. Astronomers used telescopes, including one from the National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory, to identify the mystery object. The recently discovered black hole is said to be three times closer to Earth than the previously nearest known, and its star is approximately the same size as our Sun. So far, astronomers know the existence of about 20 black holes in the Milky Way. Our galaxy could contain 100 million more with a size ranging between 5 and 100 times more massive than the Sun. Scientists have yet to study and observe a black hole directly since no light escapes one, but the X-rays they emit can be revealing.