New Research Indicates Presence of Numerous Black Holes in Milky Way's Center


Astronomers using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory have discovered what they believe are 12 stellar-mass black holes gathered around Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole in the Milky Way's center, leading them to conclude there are probably 10,000 such objects spread throughout the central region of our Galaxy.

"We observed a dozen black holes" around Sagittarius A, the black hole at the centre of the Milky Way, said study co-author Chuck Hailey, an astrophysicist at New York's Columbia University.

According to a new study published this week in the journal Nature, the center of our galaxy appears to play host to more than 10,000 relatively small black holes that we have gone undiscovered until now.

Everything you'd ever want to learn about the way big black holes interact with little black holes, you can learn by studying this distribution.

"The Milky Way is really the only galaxy we have where we can study how supermassive black holes interact with little ones because we simply can't see their interactions in other galaxies", said Chuck Hailey, from Columbia University in the US. There have been tons of research on this matter, however, no one actually found the evidence proving this major theory which dates back to 1931 when physicist Karl Jansky recorded the primitive evidence of radio waves from the region i.e. the center of our galaxy. Since they saw that these black holes have stellar companions they made a decision to extrapolate this find and calculate the possibility of there being more black holes in our galaxy than we may think. It is accompanied by a halo of dust and gas which surrounds it and forms a favorable ground for the birth of massive stars that was eventually born, live, die and finally, the black hole would engulf it.

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Sgr A* is surrounded by a halo of gas and dust that provides the ideal breeding ground for the birth of massive stars, which live, die and could turn into black holes there. While most of the trapped black holes remain isolated, few of them capture and bind to a passing star, forming a stellar binary.

In the past, failed efforts to discover evidence of such a cusp have concentrated on seeking the bright burst of X-ray glow that ensues when black holes mate with companion stars. Moreover, the cluster of black holes is more than 25,000 light years away from us, which makes the chances of collision extremely rare.

"Isolated, unmated black holes are just black - they don't do anything", said Prof Hailey. So looking for isolated black holes is not a smart way to find them either. To explain their size, astrophysicists hypothesized star clusters merge in their death throes, accumulating enough mass to forge a single supermassive black hole, but when you crunch the numbers for typical star clusters in our universe, such a process could easily exceed the age of the universe.

Researchers at the Columbia University in NY including professor Charles Hailey and his colleagues used the archival data obtained by NASA's Chandra X-ray telescope using which, the came to their conclusions as stated in the research paper.

A search for the X-ray signatures of low-mass black hole binaries in the Chandra data turned up 12 within three light-years of Sgr A*.

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The researchers located evidence for 300 to 500 black hole binary systems, from which they were then able to estimate how many isolated black holes exist in the galactic centre - approximately 10,000.

What Hailey finds particularly exciting is that the new findings could also aid in more discoveries and the study of gravitational waves, first seen in 2015.

Nevertheless, the location of these black holes are what's significant: To date, we have only identified almost sixty black holes within our galaxy, but most are concentrated towards the galactic center.

Dr Sobral adds: "These early galaxies seem to have gone through many more "bursts" when they formed stars, instead of forming them at a relatively steady rate like our own galaxy". Chuck Hailey, co-director of the Columbia Astrophysics Laboratory at Columbia University.

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