The latest headlines in your inbox twice a day Monday – Friday plus breaking news updates
Earth’s closest black hole has been discovered by astronomers and it is big enough to swallow the whole of Washington DC.
Researchers said stars around the 25-mile mass can be seen with the naked eye and it is three times closer than the next space vacuum of its kind.
Although the black hole is relatively near to the earth in a galactic sense, it is still about 1,000 light-years away (each light-year is 5.9 trillion miles). Astronomers said in terms of the cosmo and the galaxy however, it is nearby.
European Southern Observatory astronomer Thomas Rivinius, who led the study, published the research in the Astronomy & Astrophysics journal.
The discovery, which is in the constellation Telescopium in the Southern Hemisphere, hints that there are more black holes out there with astronomers theorising there are between 100 million to 1 billion of these small but dense objects in the Milky Way.
However scientists can usually only spot them when they’re absorbing sections of a partner star or another object falls into them.
They believe most black holes, including this newly discovered one, do not have anything close enough to swallow, so they go undetected.
The new black hole is part of what used to be a three-star dance in a system called HR6819. The two remaining super-hot stars are not close enough to be sucked in, but the inner star’s orbit is warped.
Using a telescope in Chile, they confirmed that there was something about four or five times the mass of our sun pulling on the inner star. It could only be a black hole, they concluded.
“It will motivate additional searches among bright, relatively nearby stars,” said Ohio State University astronomer Todd Thompson.
Like most of these type of black holes this one is tiny, maybe 25 miles in diameter.
“Washington, DC would quite easily fit into the black hole, and once it went in it, would never come back,” said astronomer Dietrich Baade, a study co-author.
They are maybe 140 million years old, but at 26,000 degrees F (15,000 degrees C) they are three times hotter, Mr Rivinius said.
About 15 million years ago, one of those stars got too big and too hot and went supernova, turning into the black hole in a violent process, he said.
“It is most likely that there are black holes much closer than this one,” added Avi Loeb, director of Harvard’s Black Hole Initiative.
“If you find an ant while scanning a tiny fraction of your kitchen, you know there must be many more out there.”
You can find our Community Guidelines in full
World news – THAT – Astronomers find Earth’s closest black hole and it’s 25 miles wide