Astronomers have discovered a new record-breaking black hole, which is the closest to Earth found to date — and one of the smallest.
Black holes can’t be seen because they emit no light, but they can be detected by their corresponding stars and eerie, powerful gravitational pull. Ohio State University researchers spotted this one by noting the distortion in the shape of a red giant star caused by the gravitational pull of its suspected companion black hole. It’s just 1,500 light years away from the Earth.
The discovery has been dubbed “The Unicorn” because it’s rare and because it’s located in the Milky Way in the constellation Monoceros, which means “unicorn” in Latin. It’s tiny for a black hole, only about three times the mass of the sun.
“When we looked at the data, this black hole — the Unicorn — just popped out,” said Tharindu Jayasinghe, a doctoral student in astronomy at Ohio State University and the lead author of a study on the discovery.
The possibility of a black hole in that space had been previously overlooked because this one is unusually small.
“Just as the moon’s gravity distorts the Earth’s oceans, causing the seas to bulge toward and away from the moon, producing high tides, so does the black hole distort the star into a football-like shape with one axis longer than the other,” concluded Todd Thompson, Ohio State’s astronomy department and co-author of the study.
“The simplest explanation is that it’s a black hole — and in this case, the simplest explanation is the most likely one,” he added.
Check out a video on the discovery by Ohio State University above.