In a three-light-long section of the Milky Way, researchers have found traces of dozens of black holes. Extrapolated, the center of the galaxy could contain thousands of the earth eaters.
Ten thousand black holes may lurk in the center of our Milky Way galaxy. Astronomers conclude this from observations with the X-ray satellite “Chandra” of the US space agency NASA. The team of Chuck Hailey from Columbia University, New York has discovered a dozen black holes, each in double systems with normal stars. The astronomers present their study in the journal “Nature”.
Scientists have long suspected that there are many more black holes in our home galaxy than the five dozen known so far. In particular, the central area of the Milky Way around the gigantic black hole called Sagittarius A * should be full of smaller black holes that have roughly the mass of individual stars. Because in this turbulent region, gas and dust accumulate, and there are many short-lived giant stars that end their existence as a black hole.
Extrapolated 10,000 isolated black holes
So far, however, researchers have searched in vain for the herd of black holes in the galactic center. However, some of the black holes should connect with passing stars to double systems. After their weak X-ray signature, the team has now searched for Hailey.
In fact, astronomers using chandra in a three-light-year range around Sagittarius A * have identified the tracks of a dozen such dual systems. Extrapolated this result means that 300 to 500 such double systems and about 10,000 isolated black holes populate the central region around the supermassereiche black hole of our Milky Way, write the scientists.
For astronomers, observation is not just confirmation of a long-standing theory. “The Milky Way is the only galaxy we can study how supermassive black holes interact with smaller ones, because in other galaxies we simply can not detect these interactions,” Hailey explains.
Among other things, the investigations could benefit from gravitational-wave astronomy. “Knowing the number of black holes in the center of a typical galaxy can help predict how many gravitational wave events might be related to them,” Hailey explains. “All the information astrophysicists need is at the center of the galaxy.”