Artistic depiction of a black hole "devouring" a star. Or so it was supposed until now because the accumulation of objects in the area confused astronomers trying to find out what happens in that key region of the galaxy.
In the new study, Charles Hailey, an astrophysicist at Columbia University, and his colleagues scrutinized the past dozen years of data gathered by the Chandra X-ray Observatory, an orbiting craft whose instruments are created to detect high-energy radiation emitted by the immensely hot material surrounding exploded stars and near black holes. Also the ones spotted are only the type that are binary, where a black hole has partnered with another star and together they emit large amount of x-rays as the star's outer layer is sucked into the black hole.
For the first time, astronomers have managed to confirm the existence of a black hole population surrounding the core of our galaxy.
And since most black holes can't even be spotted that way, they calculate that there are likely thousands of them there. When they looked at the region of space within about 12 light-years of our galaxy's supermassive black hole, an object dubbed Sagittarius A*, they found hundreds of x-ray sources.
Researchers have found that the Milky Way's center is teeming with black holes.
Professor Hailey said: "The Milky Way is really the only galaxy we have where we can study how supermassive black holes interact with little ones because we simply can't see their interactions in other galaxies".
Black holes, which are vast amounts of matter asked into small areas, are typically ten times larger than our own sun but packed into an area roughly the diameter of NY city.
This supports the hypothesis that the massive halo of gas and dust around Sagittarius A* has produced many massive stars that have lived, died and collapsed into black holes. "They would already have submerged their planets", Charles Hailey explained.
This artist's impression shows how the Milky Way Galaxy would look seen from nearly edge on and from a very different perspective than we get from the Earth. "It was a pretty tantalizing mystery: Why are we missing this huge population of black holes?" "The galactic centre is a odd place".
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Despite the difficulties, the team was able to identify 12 black holes. This allows scientists to spot the black holes by spotting the X-ray emissions. Furthermore, black holes from outside the halo are believed to fall under the influence of a supermassive black hole as their energy diminishes, prompting them to be pulled near the celestial giant and held by its force.
"All the information astrophysicists need is at the centre of the galaxy". "Some of them were formed comparatively recently".
But previous attempts to find evidence of these black holes around Sagittarius A* - the closest supermassive black hole, and therefore the most accessible to study - have yielded nothing.
"It is going to significantly advance gravitational wave research because knowing the number of black holes in the centre of a typical galaxy can help in better predicting how many gravitational wave events may be associated with them".
There are good reasons the Milky Way's black holes tend to be in the center of the galaxy, Hailey said.
Boom. There's your black hole density cusp.
The researchers say there must be anywhere from 300 to 500 black hole, low-mass binaries and about 10,000 isolated black holes in the area surrounding Sagittarius A*. And he hopes that other astronomers will use publicly available data to further seek out these somewhat elusive mysteries of the universe.
"I think this is a really intriguing result", says Fiona Harrison, an astrophysicist at Caltech.