The Closest Known Black Hole To Earth Was Just Discovered

Because 2020 hasn’t been stressful enough.

ESO/L. Calçada

As if a global virus outbreak and murder hornets weren’t enough, scientists have made an otherworldly discovery to add to the stressful year that is 2020. 

A team of astronomers at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) announced Wednesday the discovery of a nearby black hole in our galaxy. The scientists say the black hole is 1,000 lightyears away from Earth—the closest to our solar system ever discovered. The black hole was discovered using ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile.  

While 1,000 lightyears seems incredibly far by Earth standards, scientists say in astronomical terms, that’s fairly close. So much so that the two stars around the black hole can be seen on a clear night by the naked eye in the southern hemisphere. 

In the study, astronomers said they happened upon the black hole while studying a double-star system they call HR 6819. While observing that system, they realized one star was circling an unseen object every 40 days—the black hole. 

The team at ESO also said it’s the first black hole they’ve observed that doesn’t interact violently with their environment, unlike others that swallow stars or even explode. The team could measure the black hole based on the orbit of the other star and determined it was four times the size of the sun. 

Scientists say the discovery of this “silent, invisible” black hole will give them insight into other hidden black holes in the Milky Way. Very few black holes have been discovered in our galaxy in the past, but astronomers at ESO say this discovery is the “tip of an exciting iceberg.”

“There must be hundreds of millions of black holes out there, but we know about only very few. Knowing what to look for should put us in a better position to find them,” said  ESO scientist Thomas Rivinius, who led the study.  

In the center of the Milky Way, scientists believe there is a cluster of thousands of black holes, nearly 25,000 lightyears away. Earlier this year, a black hole explosion was discovered millions of lightyears away, which caused a gap that could fit 15 Milky Way galaxies inside of it.