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Scientists believe black holes are lurking much closer to Earth than we previously thought

Scientists suggest that black holes may exist much closer to Earth than previously believed.

Black Hole
Image Source: NASA/ESA and G. Bacon (STScI)

In the vast expanse of our Milky Way, you might think it’s all sunshine and stardust, but hidden away, in the shadowy corners of our galactic neighborhood, there’s a cosmic enigma lurking. A cosmic gang, if you will, of small black holes, playing hide-and-seek among the stars. The numbers are staggering, with estimates ranging from 10 million to a jaw-dropping 1 billion of these stellar mass black holes.

Now, before you start picturing an interstellar census, here’s the kicker – we can’t see these cosmic rogues unless they’re feeling particularly active and, let’s face it, they rarely are. It’s like trying to count fireflies on a moonless night.

Currently, we only have about 20 of these stellar mass black holes on our galactic radar, and the closest one, Earth’s potential cosmic neighbor, sits a mere 1,565 light-years away. But, hold onto your cosmic hats, because a recent study is about to turn that perception upside down.

Picture this: a group of astronomers, armed with their cosmic detective tools, decided to take a closer look at the Hyades cluster. Located just a stone’s throw away at a cosmic scale – 150 light-years – this cluster of stars revealed some hidden secrets.

It turns out that amidst the Hyades, in the heart of this celestial sibling reunion, there might be not one, but two or three stellar mass black holes having a quiet cosmic picnic. Yes, you heard that right, black holes casually hanging out in our celestial backyard.

To understand this revelation, you need to know a bit about the Hyades. It’s like a celestial family reunion, stars that were born together from a colossal cosmic cloud. They’ve been hanging out together for around 625 million years, but now some of them are getting ready to part ways. In the heart of the cluster, where stars are cheek by jowl, things get a bit rowdy, like a cosmic mosh pit. This chaos increases the odds of stellar encounters and mergers.

Now, where there’s chaos, there could be black holes, those mysterious cosmic voids. We’ve suspected their presence before but finding them is like searching for a needle in a haystack since they don’t shine unless they’re having a star-snack.

The Hyades secret was uncovered indirectly. Astronomers, using data from the Gaia satellite, modeled the cluster’s motion and mass, then played cosmic matchmaker with their computer simulations. Guess what? The most compatible models included two or three stellar mass black holes.

These black holes could still be mingling with the stellar crowd or were booted out less than 150 million years ago, orbiting the cluster like cosmic ghosts. Even if they were heading our way (which they’re not), they’re not in any hurry. We’re talking about a snail’s pace in cosmic terms.

Besides, black holes, despite their ominous reputation, don’t have a greater gravitational pull than your run-of-the-mill stars with the same mass. So, no need to fret; we’re as safe as we were before this cosmic revelation.

But this discovery isn’t just about cosmic neighborhood watch. It’s about understanding these elusive stellar mass black holes and how they shape the lives of star clusters and contribute to gravitational waves. It’s like peeling back the cosmic curtain to learn more about our galactic neighbors, those dark, enigmatic characters that keep us on our toes in this celestial dance.

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