By: Kyle James | 04-05-2018 | Science
Photo credit: Giovanni Triagianni |

Milky Way Centre Buzzing With Black Holes

The center of the Milky Way may actually be full of black holes, and not just a few black holes, thousands. Astrophysicists have spotted a dozen small black holes within the inner region of the galaxy and there could be thousands more just a few light years away.

Charles Hailey is an astrophysicist at Columbia University who along with his colleagues spotted the black holes thanks to the effect they had on stars slowly spiraling inward that revealed the presence of the gravity wells. The team reported on April 4 in a Nature episode that isolated black holes emit no light, but black holes stealing material from nearby stars will heat the matter until it emits X-rays.

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Searching through 12 years of telescope data from NASA’s orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory, the astrophysicists at Columbia University found 12 objects emitting the right X-ray energy to indicate they were black holes. Hailey and his colleagues calculated how many black holes there would be with stellar companions and the result was around 20,000 invisible black holes just within the inner portion of the Milky Way galaxy.

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Using the Chandra X-ray telescope, Hailey and his team found black holes in the inner 3.26 light-years of the Milky Way. A photo of the telescope's vision shows black holes in yellow and other X-ray emitting objects like neutron stars or white dwarfs in red. Astrophysicists have been searching for decades for small black holes in the galactic center, where one supermassive black hole was previously known to be.

<img src="" style="max-height:640px;max-width:360px;">

<span style="margin-top:15px;rgba(42,51,6,0.7);font-size:12px;">Hailey ET AL/Nature 2018</span>

"It was always kind of a mystery," Hailey said. "If there’s so many that are supposed to be jammed into the central parsec [about 3.26 light-years], why haven’t we seen any evidence?" Finally, after a "really hard" search, the black holes have been found. The next step in the mystery is to discover how the black holes go to the galaxy's center.

Columbia astronomer Aleksey Generozov has a theory that the black holes could have been born around the larger supermassive black hole. Hailey added, "The theorists are going to have to slug it out and figure out what’s going on."

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