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Astronomers have found a VERY sneaky black hole

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There is always something new and exciting happening in the field of black hole research.

Albert Einstein first published his book in which he explains: the theory of general relativity – who postulated black holes – in 1922. One hundred years later, astronomers laid out the actual images of the black hole at the center of the Milky Way. In a recent article, a team of astronomers describes another exciting new discovery: the first “sleeping” black hole observed outside the galaxy.

I am an astrophysicist who has studied black holes — the most dense objects in the universe — for nearly two decades. Dormant black holes are black holes that emit no discernible light. So they are notoriously hard to find. This new discovery is exciting because it provides insight into the formation and evolution of black holes. This information is essential for understanding gravitational waves as well as other astronomical events.

What exactly is VFTS 243?

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VFTS 243 is a binary system, which means that it is composed of two objects that revolve around a common center of gravity. The first object is a very hot blue star with 25 times the mass of the sun, and the second a black hole nine times more massive than the sun. VFTS 243 is located in the Tarantula Nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way about 163,000 light-years from Earth.

This video begins with a view of the Milky Way and zooms all the way to VFTS 243, which is located in the Large Magellanic Cloud.

The black hole in VFTS 243 is considered dormant because it emits no detectable radiation. This is in stark contrast to other binary systems in which: strong X-rays are detected from the black hole.

The black hole is about 54 kilometers in diameter and dwarfs the energetic star, which is about 200,000 times larger. Both rotate rapidly around a common center of gravity. Even with the most powerful telescopes, the system visually appears to be a single blue dot.

Finding sleeping black holes

Astronomers suspect that there are hundreds of such black hole binary systems that do not emit X-rays, hiding in the Milky Way and the Large Magellanic Cloud. Black holes are most easily visible when they are stripping matter from a companion stara process known as “feeding”.

Feeding produces a disk of gas and dust that surrounds the black hole. As the material in the disk falls inward toward the black hole, friction heats the accretion disk to millions of degrees. These hot disks of matter emit an enormous amount of X-rays. The first black hole to be detected in this way is the famous Cygnus X-1 System.