Closest Black Hole to Earth


Closest black hole
On the left, an optical image from the Digitized Sky Survey shows Cygnus X-1, outlined in a red box. Cygnus X-1 is located near large active regions of star formation in the Milky Way, as seen in this image that spans some 700 light years across. An artist’s illustration on the right depicts what astronomers think is happening within the Cygnus X-1 system. Cygnus X-1 is a so-called stellar-mass black hole, a class of black holes that comes from the collapse of a massive star. New studies with data from Chandra and several other telescopes have determined the black hole’s spin, mass, and distance with unprecedented accuracy.

Closest Black Hole to Earth: Black holes are one of the most mysterious objects out in space and something that captures the imagination of all space loving humans no matter what their age. The wonder created from knowing that an object exists alongside us that we cannot see, cannot get close to and most definitely wouldn’t want to fall into, opens up countless questions and puzzled faces during our astronomy presentations at the Aurora Borealis Observatory.


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Black holes were first theorised in 1784 by astronomical pioneer and clergyman John Michell, his calculations assumed that there could be a body in space that has so much mass, light could not escape it due to a surface escape velocity, the speed at which an object needs to travel to overwhelm the gravitational pull of a massive object, like a star. His early physics didn’t stand the test of time within the science community, but it was the first theory of such a gigantic and mysterious object potentially existing. Fast-forward over 200 years to the modern day and black holes are now in accepted existence and have also been photographed, kind of.


closest black hole

Black holes are now known to be an area of spacetime where the gravity around the object is so strong that nothing can escape, not even light which we know travels at just less than 3 hundred million meters per second! Most black holes are formed when a massive star dies in a supernova explosion, as the star approaches the end of its life it is eventually overwhelmed by gravity and collapses.

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The resulting core collapse means so much mass is in a confined volume, the collective force of gravity overcomes the rule that usually keeps the building blocks of atoms from occupying the same space. All this density creates a black hole.


closest black hole


Recently scientists have discovered the closest known black hole to the Earth at only 1,000 light years away, that is around 9.5 thousand, million, million km, which is quite close given the furthest object ever observed is over 13 billion light years away! It was discovered accidently by Marianne Heida at the European Southern Observatory in Germany and her colleagues. It is part of a system called HR 6819 that also comprises of two stars. The team was looking for pairs of stars in which one was a type that rotates so quickly it throws off material from its equator, creating a kind of ring from its own plasma. They discovered HR 6819, which has one of those plus one normal star, but the normal star appeared to be orbiting an empty spot of space once every 40 days. That turned out to be a black hole at least four times as massive as our Sun.

The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) — a planet-scale array of eight ground-based radio telescopes forged through international collaboration — was designed to capture images of a black hole. In coordinated press conferences across the globe, EHT researchers revealed that they succeeded, unveiling the first direct visual evidence of the supermassive black hole in the centre of Messier 87 and its shadow. The shadow of a black hole seen here is the closest we can come to an image of the black hole itself, a completely dark object from which light cannot escape. The black hole’s boundary — the event horizon from which the EHT takes its name — is around 2.5 times smaller than the shadow it casts and measures just under 40 billion km across. While this may sound large, this ring is only about 40 microarcseconds across — equivalent to measuring the length of a credit card on the surface of the Moon. Although the telescopes making up the EHT are not physically connected, they are able to synchronize their recorded data with atomic clocks — hydrogen masers — which precisely time their observations. These observations were collected at a wavelength of 1.3 mm during a 2017 global campaign. Each telescope of the EHT produced enormous amounts of data – roughly 350 terabytes per day – which was stored on high-performance helium-filled hard drives. These data were flown to highly specialised supercomputers — known as correlators — at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy and MIT Haystack Observatory to be combined. They were then painstakingly converted into an image using novel computational tools developed by the collaboration.

“There must be a bunch of them closer by that we haven’t found yet, but this is the closest that we know,” says Heida. “Based on the number of stars in the Milky Way, we expect that there are about 100 million of these small black holes, and we’ve only found less than 100 of them.” If black holes were spread evenly throughout the galaxy, the closest should be just 30 to 40 light years away, she says.


NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has trained its razor-sharp eye on one of the universe’s most stately and photogenic galaxies, the Sombrero galaxy, Messier 104 (M104). The galaxy’s hallmark is a brilliant white, bulbous core encircled by the thick dust lanes comprising the spiral structure of the galaxy. As seen from Earth, the galaxy is tilted nearly edge-on. We view it from just six degrees north of its equatorial plane. This brilliant galaxy was named the Sombrero because of its resemblance to the broad rim and high-topped Mexican hat. At a relatively bright magnitude of +8, M104 is just beyond the limit of naked-eye visibility and is easily seen through small telescopes. The Sombrero lies at the southern edge of the rich Virgo cluster of galaxies and is one of the most massive objects in that group, equivalent to 800 billion suns. The galaxy is 50,000 light-years across and is located 30 million light-years from Earth.

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As we mentioned earlier, most black holes are invisible, they are discovered from the way they interact fiercely with an accreting disc of gas and dust. As they devour this material, X-rays are emitted. It’s this high-energy signal that telescopes detect, not the black hole itself. Discoveries like this can help us get an idea on how many black holes there are in our galaxy.


closest black hole


This discovery of the closest black hole to earth is located in the southern hemisphere constellation of Telescopium and the stars around this black hole can actually be seen with the naked eye in dark skies. If you locate the brightest star in the constellation of Pavo, which is named Peacock after the Latin name for the constellation. You simply draw a line to the right and stop before you reach the luminous yellow star Beta Are, then you will be looking at and in the direction of the closest black hole known to Earth.



Unfortunately, this constellation is not visible from the Aurora Borealis Observatory as our island, Senja, is too far north. As we know the main advantage of our location is, we sit directly underneath the auroral oval, the area of the Earth’s atmosphere where the northern lights are observed frequently. We are already looking forward to welcoming guests on their northern lights holidays for the 2020/21 aurora season.






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