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Hunting black holes with a gas cloud

Black holes form upon the death of massive stars. Many of these black holes will migrate over millions of years towards their giant relative in the center of the Milky Way galaxy. This large black hole population is nonetheless elusive and has so far proven undetectable.

However, a recently discovered gas cloud the size of the solar system will travel through the central region of the Milky Way within the next year. During this time, astronomers may detect some of the thousands of black holes lurking around the giant black hole in the center of the Milky Way. Researchers predict that as the gas cloud falls toward the galactic center it will "illuminate" black holes, which may be observed with X-ray satellites.

Visualizing the black hole population in the center of the galaxy could add to the fundamental understanding of galaxy formation and gravitational wave sources, as well as how matter is swallowed by black holes. The black hole population may also reveal, for the first time, a distinct type of black hole. A particularly interesting possibility is the discovery of medium-sized black holes. Such a finding would impact our current understanding of how the universe's structure developed.  

Image

  • a gas cloud illuminates black holes at the center of the milky way
A gas illuminates black holes at the center of the Milky Way.
ESO/MPE/Marc Schartmann

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