This artist’s impression shows the orbits of the objects in the HR 6819 triple system. This system is made up of an inner binary with one star (orbit in blue) and a newly discovered black hole (orbit in red), as well as a third object, another star, in a wider orbit (also in blue). The team originally believed there were only two objects, the two stars, in the system. However, as they analysed their observations, they were stunned when they revealed a third, previously undiscovered body in HR 6819: a black hole, the closest ever found to Earth. The black hole is invisible, but it makes its presence known by its gravitational pull, which forces the luminous inner star into an orbit. The objects in this inner pair have roughly the same mass and circular orbits. The observations, with the FEROS spectrograph on the 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla, showed that the inner visible star orbits the black hole every 40 days, while the second star is at a large distance from this inner pair. 

Astronomers have discovered what they think is a black hole at 1,000 light-years away, the closest one to Earth ever found. Scientists at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile inferred that that object is where they think it is based on the movements of stars nearby.  The team was actually trying to understand the uncanny behavior of two stars that were close to each another in a system called HR 6819. These two stars were both in the same system with similar mass and size, but were behaving differently as both are moving through space at different velocities. 

For a number of years, astronomers have been curious about this two-star system, with some thinking that a third object might be nearby and are causing these two stars to behave as is. Finally, astronomers have tracked that the stars’ movements looked like they were orbiting around an object that was maybe four times bigger than the Solar System’s own sun. During their initial observations, it didn’t seem like there was anything in the middle, which meant that the two stars were revolving around another star that was very difficult to detect- or a black hole.

The system where the two stars and the black hole are is near Earth because these stars can be seen with the naked eye. Fortunately, 1,000 light-years is a huge distance so the black hole is not a threat to our planet or the Solar System. With this discovery of a black hole so near us, it could also mean that there might be more black holes scattered in the Universe.

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