Scientists have found both the oldest and nearest black holes | SaltWire
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Separate teams of scientists working with data from different space-based telescopes have reported finding the oldest and also the nearest black holes in the universe.
One team, led by astrophysicist Rebecca Larson from the University of Texas, used data from the recently launched James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) to discover a supermassive black hole, with a mass of 10 million times that of the sun, at the center of a young galaxy just 570 million years after the universe began. Astronomers think the universe is now about 13.7 billion years old.
Larson told the web site Livescience.com that she expects there are many more ancient black holes to be found. The telescope, which orbits the sun at a distance of 1.5 million km from Earth, can detect faint light from very early in the history of the universe, allowing it to perceive objects farther away than any other telescope.
“There should be more that are younger and existed earlier on in the universe,” she said. “We’re just starting to be able to study this time in cosmic history this way with the JWST, and I’m excited for us to find more of them.”
Meanwhile, the Gaia space telescope, operated by the European Space Agency, has found evidence of two black holes that are relatively close to Earth, one of them about 1,560 light years away in our own galaxy, the other a little more than twice that distance. Scientists have never found one so close to our home.
The two black holes, dubbed Gaia BH1 and Gaia BH2, each share an orbit with a companion star, and scientists were able to infer their existence by noting the wobble of the star detected by the telescope. Many black holes can be detected by the emission of X-rays from matter as it falls toward the singularity, but these were truly black, meaning the stars’ wobble was the only way to detect them.
They are also tiny in comparison to the oldest black hole, weighing in at only about 10 times the mass of the sun.
“What sets this new group of black holes apart from the ones we already knew about is their wide separation from their companion stars,” Kareem El-Badry, discoverer of the new black holes and researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told the web site Scitechdaily.com. “These black holes likely have a completely different formation history than X-ray binaries.”
The Gaia telescope was launched in 2013 and occupies a similar point in space as the JWST. Scientists hope its next data release in 2025 will contain many more of these stars with black hole companions, as well as more precise information about the latest discoveries.
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