The cen­tre of the Milky Way is full of holes

Science Illustrated - - SCIENCE UPDATE -

The large black hole at the cen­tre of our galaxy is not the only one. A new study in­di­cates that an en­tire swarm of small black holes are or­bit­ing it, swal­low­ing mat­ter from the stars around them.

As­tronomers from the Columbia Univer­sity in New York, USA, have taken a closer look at more than 10 years of record­ings from the Chan­dra space tele­scope. Twelve sources stand out. From those, the X-ra­di­a­tion is so pow­er­ful that ac­cord­ing to the­o­ries, it can only come from the ex­tremely hot mat­ter or­bit­ing a black hole. The 12 holes were pro­duced by very large stars, which burned out and col­lapsed un­der their own weight. Only stars that weigh 25+ times more than the Sun can end up as black holes.

The newly-dis­cov­ered black holes are within 3.3 light years of the cen­tre of the Milky Way. The dis­cov­ery con­firms the most re­cent the­o­ries about the de­vel­op­ment of gal­ax­ies, ac­cord­ing to which the Milky Way must be ripe with stars that have be­come black holes. Over time, many of them will move to­wards the cen­tre. Ac­cord­ing to the­ory, there ought to be thou­sands or­bit­ing close to the su­per­heavy black hole at the cen­tre of the Milky Way.

The huge black hole weighs mil­lions of times more than the Sun and was prob­a­bly born early in the his­tory of the galaxy. Since then, it has grown big­ger by swal­low­ing mat­ter. As­tronomers’ new dis­cov­er­ies are known as stel­lar black holes due to their ori­gins. They are very small com­pared to the huge one at the cen­tre of our galaxy.

The Chan­dra X-ray tele­scope has found 12 black holes within a ra­dius of 3.3 light years (yel­low cir­cle) from the cen­tre of the Milky Way.

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