Giant Black Hole Discovered Lurking Near Earth, Gaia Mission Data Reveals

A whopper of a black hole, the most massive stellar black hole ever found in our galaxy, has been spotted by astronomers. This Stellar Goliathan is 33 times the mass of our sun and resides a mere 2,000 light-years away, making it the second-closest black hole to Earth.

Stellar black holes form when giant stars collapse. Previously identified ones in our Milky Way are typically around 10 times the sun's mass. Even the next biggest, Cygnus X-1, only reaches 21 solar masses. This new discovery, dubbed Gaia BH3, is a true stellar goliath.

This artist's impression shows the orbits of both the star and the black hole, dubbed Gaia BH3, around their common center of mass.

The European Space Agency's Gaia mission data revealed a strange wobble in a star, hinting at a black hole companion. Ground-based telescopes like ESO's VLT confirmed the culprit – a black hole 33 times the sun's mass.

"This unexpected find is a once-in-a-lifetime discovery," said astronomer Pasquale Panuzzo, who participated in the analysis.

Astronomers suspect super-massive black holes like Gaia BH3 form from stars lacking heavier elements. This new discovery hints at a connection between metal-poor stars and massive black holes, something not previously confirmed. The companion star of Gaia BH3 is indeed metal-poor, supporting this theory.

The study, led by Panuzzo, has been published early due to the unique nature of the find. This allows other scientists to delve into this black hole sooner.

Future observations with instruments like ESO's VLT Interferometer could provide more details about Gaia BH3's history and behavior.


Published 30 March 2024 in the Astronomy & Astrophysics Journal; Discovery of a dormant 33 solar-mass black hole in pre-release Gaia astrometry.


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