In a world plagued by bad news like the Corona Virus, Murder Wasps, and anything coming out of Washington, sometimes it’s good to take a break from all of that and focus on some brighter news; like the massive blackhole that’s about to swallow our planet.
OK, obviously I’m kidding. There is no blackhole that’s about to wipe us out. But scientists have recently published their discovery of the closest known blackhole to earth. According to one researcher associated with the project it’s practically on our doorstep.
This blackhole is located in a star system designated HR 6819 and is about 1,000 light years away from Earth. This star system is located in a constellation known as Telescopium and can only be seen from the southern hemisphere. Prior to this discovery, the closest blackhole was 3,200 light years away. Since our Milky Way galaxy is estimated to be more than 100 million light years in diameter this blackhole seems to be right next door.
The discovery of this blackhole started several years ago when researchers at the La Silla Observatory in southern Chile set out to study HR 6819. At the time, they assumed this to be a binary star system but it caught their eye because of the odd behavior of one of those stars. Careful observation and calculations led them to believe that this odd behavior was caused by the gravity of another nearby object. The planet Neptune was discovered in a similar manner when researchers observed its nearest neighbor, Uranus, behaving in unexpected ways.
Despite developing a working theory that something was there, this blackhole remained hard to find. This was due to the fact that it didn’t behave as such objects normally do. Blackholes are known for not getting along well with their neighbors and are said to behave violently with any object nearby. This takes the form of their massive gravity sucking gasses and other material away from nearby stars and adding this material to their own mass. In a way, it could be said that these blackholes feed on their neighbors. This feeding process usually emits x-ray radiation and it is that radiation that is usually detected with the use of high tech telescopes.
In this case, no such feeding was taking place. In fact, this blackhole was remarkably non-violent with its neighbors. This left scientists with only the observable effects of its gravity to work. Based on that work though, they were able to determine that this object has roughly four times the mass of the sun around which we, the Earth, orbit.
It is important to note, however, that mass doesn’t necessarily equal size. In a conversation with Fox News, Dietrich Baade, the co-author of this research, says this object is only about 25 miles in diameter. So, an object that has four times the mass of the sun but only measures 25 miles must be extraordinarily dense. According to Baade, Washington D.C. would easily fit inside of it, although once inside we would never get it out again (hopefully the next phase of this research project will be how to make that happy event a reality).
So, all of this is interesting, but what, if anything does it mean. Well, this discovery represents a new area of knowledge when it comes to space exploration. Having discovered a new blackhole in this way gives researchers another technique by which they can look for even more blackholes in the future. It is estimated that there are hundreds of millions of blackholes like this in the Milky Way Galaxy.
This also represents the relentless march forward being made in astrophysics and space exploration. Now, I know that America’s obsession with space is supposed to be decades in the past, but now would be a great time to revive it.
While this discovery is remarkable, the fact is, because of the highly advanced telescopes we have, remarkable discoveries like this are being made all the time. This, plus the advent of the Space Force, America’s imminent return to putting our own rockets into space, and the ongoing push to get people to Mars in the near future will all hopefully inspire a new generation to look to the stars and push forward in scientific knowledge and exploration.