Images from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have made it possible for the first time to directly identify a black hole roaming the Milky Way. Until then, they were detected indirectly, from their effects in space.
The Hubble Space Telescope’s Scientific Operations Center (STScI) released the data on the NASA website on Friday, 10. It revealed that astronomers already know of the existence of approximately 100 million such black holes in the Milky Way. However, they still hadn’t been able to identify them that way.
Black holes are formed by the explosion of massive stars – at least 20 times larger than the Sun. Because the detonation is not perfectly symmetrical, the black hole can end up wandering aimlessly through the galaxy.
Astronomers believe that this isolated black hole that was detected by the telescope is traveling through the Milky Way at 160,000 kilometers per hour. Fast enough to travel from Earth to the Moon in less than three hours.
However, the detected black hole is more than 5,000 light years away from Earth. In other words, there is no reason for concern. Still, the discovery allowed astronomers to estimate that the closest black hole to Earth is about 80 light-years away.
For comparison, the closest star to our solar system, Proxima Centauri, is just over four light years away.