Hubble detects ‘black hole’ wandering near our solar system

Space

This is an illustration of a close-up look at a black hole drifting through our Milky Way galaxy. The black hole is the crushed remnant of a massive star that exploded as a supernova. The surviving core is several times the mass of our Sun. The black hole traps light due to its intense gravitational field. The black hole distorts the space around it, which warps images of background stars lined up almost directly behind it. This gravitational “lensing” effect offers the only telltale evidence for the existence of lone black holes wandering our galaxy, which may be a population of 100 million. The Hubble Space Telescope goes hunting for these black holes by looking for distortion in starlight as the black holes drift in front of background stars. (Illustration Credit: FECYT, IAC)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — NASA announced this week that the Hubble Space Telescope detected what might be a wandering “black hole” nearly 5,000 light-years away in the Milky Way Galaxy. The discovery led NASA to believe the nearest black hole may be only 80 light-years away. The closest star to our own, Proxima Centauri, is about four light-years from Earth.

The wandering object was detected in the Carina-Sagittarius spiral arm of the Milky Way Galaxy. Earth is located in the Orion spiral arm. It is moving at around 100,000 mph.

NASA says at that speed, the object could travel from the Earth to the Moon in around three hours. It took three days for humans to travel that same distance aboard Apollo 11.

Is it a black hole or … something else?

Two teams worked together to locate the object: Kailash Sahu with the Space Telescope Science Institute out of Baltimore, and a team led by Casey Lam of the University of California, Berkeley. They disagree on what it may be: a black hole or maybe a star.

Photos taken by the Hubble Space Telescope show gravity warping around a star as a mysterious object passes in front of it. (Courtesy: NASA, ESA, and Kailash Sahu (STScI)

Black holes cannot be seen with a traditional telescope. However, Hubble was able to detect the gravity-warping effects caused by the object. We detect these effects when an object passes in front of a star because they literally bend the light of the star.

Gravity warping around the star show an object passing in front of it,. Scientists debate what it is: black hole or star. (Courtesy: NASA, ESA, and Kailash Sahu (STScI)
Gravity warping around the star shows an object passing in front of it. Scientists debate what it is: black hole or star. (Courtesy: NASA, ESA, and Kailash Sahu (STScI)

Based on how the star’s light is altered, we can determine the size of the object moving in front of it. If the light is altered significantly, then it is likely a black hole. If it is only altered slightly and the color of the star changes, then it is likely another star.

Lam’s team believes the object is likely a star, while Sahu’s team believes it is a black hole. The debate surrounds the teams’ methodology. Lam’s team used Hubble, while the other team didn’t.

How are black holes created?

Black holes are born from destruction. They are created when a supermassive star dies. These stars are around 20 times larger than our sun.

As they die, they explode in what is called a supernova. According to NASA, what’s left after that explosion is then crushed under its own gravity. That gravity is so intense that it then sucks everything in around it, even light and time itself.

When that supernova happens, the kickback from the explosion can hurl the black hole into space.

Are we in danger of being sucked up by a black hole?

That’s not likely. While the black hole is moving pretty fast, it’s not moving fast enough to reach our solar system anytime soon. The likelihood of Earth being hit by a black hole, one of the study’s authors told Newsweek, is relatively low.

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