Scientists believe two, or possibly three, black holes might exist just 150 light years away from our planet.

Key takeaways

  • Scientists may have found the closest black holes to Earth, just 150 light years away in the Hyades Cluster.
  • The Hyades Cluster, located in the Taurus constellation, is an open cluster of stars that formed from the same gas and dust cloud.
  • Researchers used simulations to match the movements and evolutions of stars in the Hyades with the presence of two or three black holes.
  • The study suggests these black holes may have been expelled from the cluster millions of years ago but would still be the closest to Earth.
  • Data from the Gaia space telescope helped identify these black holes, showing how Gaia is revolutionizing the study of star clusters and black holes.

Astronomers may have discovered the nearest black holes to Earth in the Hyades Cluster, which is just around 150 light years away from the sun.

In reality, these black holes may have been expelled from the tight cluster of stars millions of years ago, leaving the galaxy alone. Nonetheless, they would be around 10 times closer to Earth than the previously thought-to-be nearest black hole.

The Hyades, located in the Taurus constellation, is an open cluster of hundreds of stars. Open clusters, like as this one, are groups of stars thought to have originated simultaneously from the same vast cloud of gas and dust. As a result, stars in this type of cluster are known to have common properties such as chemical compositions and ages.

To discover what may be the nearest black holes to our planet, a team led by Stefano Torniamenti, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Padua, developed a simulation of the motions and evolutions of stars in the Hyades. The simulation was also run with black holes included in the equation. The scientists then compared the simulation findings to prior measurements of the velocities and locations of the open cluster’s star population. The latter dataset is credited to the Gaia space telescope.

“Our simulations can only simultaneously match the mass and size of the Hyades if some black holes are present at the center of the cluster today, or until recently,” Torniamenti stated in a statement.

Torniamenti and colleagues discovered that models with two or three black holes inside the star cluster matched the Hyades data best. Beyond that, calculations including black holes in the star cluster, which were supposedly expelled no more than 150 million years ago, matched Gaia data.

This is because, according to the scientists, if those black holes had been forcibly thrown from the Hyades when the cluster was around a quarter of its present age — approximately 625 million years old — the group of stars would not have developed enough to eradicate traces of their previous presence.

Even if the black holes had been evicted from the Hyades by now, the researchers note that they will still be the nearest black holes to Earth, despite their renegade state. According to the simulations, even if the black holes are not now in the Hyades, they are quite close.

Prior holders of the closest-black-hole-to-Earth record were Gaia BH1 and Gaia BH2, which, as the titles suggest, were discovered using Gaia data this year.

Gaia BH1 is 1,560 light years away from Earth, whereas Gaia BH2 is around 3,800 light years away. Despite the fact that both black holes are in Earth’s backyard (in cosmic terms, at least), they are still more than ten and twenty times the distance from the Hyades cluster and its probable black hole couple or triple.

Both this current study and the previous finding of Gaia BH1 and BH2 demonstrate how Gaia, which debuted in 2013, has been altering astronomy. The space telescope enabled astronomers to investigate the locations and velocities of individual stars in clusters such as the Hyades for the first time.

Gaia is capable of making such advances because it can precisely measure the locations and movements of billions of stars against a backdrop sky. Tracking stellar motions with such accuracy reveals gravitational factors pushing on these stars, even if they emanate from unseen objects such as modest stellar mass black holes.

“This observation helps us understand how the presence of black holes affects the evolution of star clusters,” principal author and University of Barcelona scholar Mark Gieles explained. “These results also give us insight into how these mysterious objects are distributed across the galaxy.”

The team’s findings were published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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