Black holes are one of the most impressive things to happen in our universe, and astronomers just made a groundbreaking discovery for one.
After a lot of hard work and dedication, astronomers have detected an incredible dungeon living just beyond the Milky Way. To say that outer space is a fascinating place would be an understatement of the century. From supernovae, auroras, or the billions of stars and planets scattered throughout the universe, there are seemingly endless things for humanity to discover.
One such entity that has captivated astronomers for decades is the black hole. In its simplest form, a black hole is an area in space that uses enormous gravitational power to absorb everything that is nearby. Black holes can be large or small, they are invisible to the human eye, and they are so powerful that not even light can escape them. While nothing in space is dull or boring, black holes are easily among the most fascinating.
In addition to that ever-growing interest, astronomers at the European Space Observatory (ESO) newly located a new black hole just outside the Milky Way. It was discovered using ESO’s Very Large Telescope and is shown above in an artist render. This particular black hole (called NGC 1850) appears quite small and is nestled among a cluster of stars around it. It is also about 160,000 light-years distant from Earth and resides in the Large Magellanic Cloud, one of the Milky Way’s closest neighbors.
Why this black hole is important for future discoveries
While scientists have been tracking black holes for years, this one stands out for excuse me it was discovered. Astronomers found the black hole by observing how it influences the motion of nearby stars. As ESO explains, this is “The first time this detection method has been used to reveal the presence of a black hole outside our galaxy.” Using the Very Large Telescope, Sara Saracino and other astronomers observed the stars as if they were studying them with a magnifying glass. Rather than looking for a black hole directly, the team was looking for any evidence of a black hole that had noticeable effects on stars. As described by ESO, “The smoking gun that put astronomers on the trail of this black hole was its gravitational influence on the orbiting five-solar mass star.”
The discovery of NGC 1850 is quite impressive on its own. However, what really excites astronomers is how this paves the way for future discoveries. Now that astronomers know that it is possible to use this method to locate black holes beyond the Milky Way, that opens the door to many other potential findings in the future. As astronomer Mark Gieles explains, “Each of the detections we make will be important to our future understanding of star clusters and the black holes in them.” It’s unclear how many other hidden black holes are waiting to be found, but thanks to this latest achievement, we’re a big step closer to discovering it.