X-ray telescope data suggest thousands more are crammed into the galaxy’s inner region
John Colosimo (colosimophotography.com)/ESO
The center of the Milky Way may be abuzz with black holes. For the first time, a dozen small black holes have been spotted within the inner region of the galaxy in an area spanning just a few light-years — and there could be thousands more.
Astrophysicist Charles Hailey of Columbia University and his colleagues spotted the black holes thanks to the holes’ interactions with stars slowly spiraling inward, the team reports in Nature on April 4. Isolated black holes emit no light, but black holes stealing material from orbiting stars will heat that material until it emits X-rays.
In 12 years of telescope data from NASA’s orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory, Hailey and colleagues found 12 objects emitting the right X-ray energy to be black holes with stellar companions. Based on theoretical predictions of how many black holes are paired with stars, there should be up to 20,000 invisible