Milky Way's centre 'contains thousands of black holes'

Distant star Icarus captured by the Hubble Space Telescope in galaxy

Distant star Icarus captured by the Hubble Space Telescope in galaxy

This isn't a hugely effective way to spot black holes, because the distance between the Earth and the center of the galaxy mean that for smaller black holes, these X-rays are too small and weak to be discernible.

A group of astrophysicists analysed X-rays emitted from the heart of the galaxy to hunt for black holes using data taken from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory.

U.S. astrophysicist Dr Chuck Hailey, from Columbia University in New York City, said: "This finding confirms a major theory and the implications are many".

What's more, the very center of our galaxy surely has far more than these dozen black holes that were just detected.

This week, a team of scientists led by Charles Hailey, from the University of Columbia (USA), announced in Nature magazine the discovery of several binary systems in which a part of the couple is a black hole. The researchers used what's known about black holes to extrapolate from what they saw to what they couldn't see.

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Black holes have earned their name for a reason-they're incredibly hard to spot because they don't give off any energy readings unless they're actively chowing down on matter or information that can be recorded.

According to the published study, as many as 20,000 black holes are predicted to settle into the central parsec of the Galaxy as a result of the forces of dynamical friction.

We had no evidence for bunches of black holes before, and our estimates, based on the dozen we see, are consistent with our expectations.

In the rest of the massive Milky Way, scientists have spotted about five dozen black holes. "The galactic center is a unusual place".

Astronomers have discovered that the center of our galaxy is swarming with black holes in what appears to be a Times Square for unusual supergravity objects. Binary systems are star systems where at least one of the components is a black hole. While it's hard to view the outskirts of our Milky Way that are a huge distance away, the team managed to look at other spiral galaxies that are quite similar to our own - specifically looking at the edges of edge-on galaxies. Those x-rays are what astronomers observe.

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Isolated black holes are nearly impossible to detect, but black holes that have a companion - an orbiting star - interact with that star in ways that allow the pair to be spotted by telltale X-ray emissions. "The bulk of the distant galaxies we found are only about 3 thousand light years across in size, while our Milky Way is about 30 times larger".

First, their mass tends to pull them to the center.

Known as Sagittarius A (Sgr A), the supermassive black hole at the heart of our galaxy is surrounded by a halo of gas and dust - believed to be the flawless breeding ground for huge stars that collapse into black holes when they die.

Hailey said it is "sort of like a little farm where you have all the right conditions to produce and hold on to a large number of black holes".

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