Largest black hole discovered in Milky Way

Published April 17, 2024
An artist’s impression shows the orbits of the most massive stellar black hole in our galaxy, dubbed Gaia BH3, and a companion star, in this handout image obtained on April 16, 2024 — Reuters
An artist’s impression shows the orbits of the most massive stellar black hole in our galaxy, dubbed Gaia BH3, and a companion star, in this handout image obtained on April 16, 2024 — Reuters

PARIS: Astronomers identified the largest stellar black hole yet discovered in the Milky Way, with a mass 33 times that of the Sun, according to a study published on Tuesday.

The black hole, named Gaia BH3, was discovered “by chance” from data collected by the European Space Agency’s Gaia mission, said an astronomer from the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) at the Observatoire de Paris, Pasquale Panuzzo.

Gaia, which is dedicated to mapping the Milky Way galaxy, located BH3 2,000 light years away from Earth in the Aquila constellation.

As Gaia’s telescope can give a precise position of stars in the sky, astronomers were able to characterise their orbits and measure the mass of the star’s invisible companion — 33 times that of the Sun.

Further observations from on-the-ground telescopes confirmed that it was a black hole with a mass far greater than the stellar black holes already in the Milky Way.

“No one was expecting to find a high-mass black hole lurking nearby, undetected so far. This is the kind of discovery you make once in your research life,” Panuzzo said in a press release.

The stellar black hole was discovered when scientists spotted a “wobbling” motion on the companion star that was orbiting it.

Stellar black holes are created from the collapse of massive stars at the end of their lives and are smaller than supermassive black holes whose creation is still unknown.

Such giants have already been detected in distant galaxies via gravitational waves. But “never in ours”, said Panuzzo.

BH3 is a “dormant” black hole and is too far away from its companion star to strip it of its matter and therefore emits no X-rays — making it difficult to detect.

Gaia’s telescope identified the first two inactive black holes (Gaia BH1 and Gaia BH2) in the Milky Way.

Gaia has been operating 1.5 million kilometres from Earth for the past 10 years and in 2022 delivered a 3D map of the positions and motions of more than 1.8 billion stars.

Published in Dawn, April 17th, 2024

Editorial

Ominous demands
Updated 18 May, 2024

Ominous demands

The federal government needs to boost its revenues to reduce future borrowing and pay back its existing debt.
Property leaks
18 May, 2024

Property leaks

THE leaked Dubai property data reported on by media organisations around the world earlier this week seems to have...
Heat warnings
18 May, 2024

Heat warnings

STARTING next week, the country must brace for brutal heatwaves. The NDMA warns of severe conditions with...
Dangerous law
Updated 17 May, 2024

Dangerous law

It must remember that the same law can be weaponised against it one day, just as Peca was when the PTI took power.
Uncalled for pressure
17 May, 2024

Uncalled for pressure

THE recent press conferences by Senators Faisal Vawda and Talal Chaudhry, where they demanded evidence from judges...
KP tussle
17 May, 2024

KP tussle

THE growing war of words between KP Chief Minister Ali Amin Gandapur and Governor Faisal Karim Kundi is affecting...