Dozen black holes found at galactic centre

This is an artist's impression showing the peanut shaped structure in the central bulge.		    Credit ESO  NASA  JPL-Caltech  M. Kornmesser  R. Hurt			  Close

Astronomers believed a "supermassive" black hole sits at the centre of the Milky Way, called Sagittarius A*. New research has found that it's not alone. The findings suggest that there are upwards of 10,000 surrounding the galactic centre.

What's more, the very center of our galaxy surely has far more than these dozen black holes that were just detected. I asked her how many black holes you'd expect to see in a random, similarly sized patch of space someplace farther out.

However, Harvey-Smith says that "with this sort of study we always need to exercise caution in how we interpret the data, since the way that objects are classified can lead to some ambiguities".

Astronomers have previously looked for black holes that are gravitationally bound to a companion star, which can provide fuel for very bright X-ray outbursts - but such eruptions are rare. These types of black holes are referred to as black hole binaries. The term is used to signify the velocity at which a galaxy is moving away or hurtling near the Earth by studying the compression and stretching of the light incident from the other galaxy.

A swarm of thousands of black holes may surround the giant black hole at the heart of our galaxy, a new study finds.

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Sagittarius A* is surrounded by a halo of gas and dust that provides the ideal breeding ground for massive stars, which can then give rise to black holes after they die, said study lead author Chuck Hailey, co-director of the astrophysics lab at Columbia University in NY.

"These stars have already expanded to a huge size to produce the gas that flows into the disk that surrounds the black hole and produces the X-rays we observe".

Regardless of how scientists follow up this discovery, one way or another the result will be "pinning down the number of black holes in the center of a normal galaxy like the Milky Way", Hailey says.

It's also crowded with other X-ray-emitting objects, such as binary pairs that contain a white dwarf star.

They then analyzed the spatial distribution and properties of the identified binary systems and concluded from their observations that there must be anywhere from 300 to 500 such binaries and roughly 10,000 isolated black holes in the area surrounding Sagittarius A*.

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So to determine the number around the Galactic Center, the researchers had to delve into their knowledge of black hole physics. They form after the spectacular death of a massive star - about 10 times that of our own sun - a supernova explosion that can outshine the star's host galaxy.

A key way in which scientists think supermassive black holes grow is by engulfing stellar-mass black holes each equal in mass to a few suns.

As gravity takes over and eventually wins, it forms a singularity, a single point in space where gravity is so strong that no object - not even light - can escape its grasp once it crosses its boundary.

This is the first time that these black holes have been found. "Some of them were formed comparatively recently".

"Isolated, unmated black holes are just black-they don't do anything". Because the x-ray emissions from their sources haven't varied in the past 12 years, Hailey presumes that these binaries include small-mass black holes.

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HAILEY: Because they're so heavy, they naturally sink or gravitate towards the supermassive black hole in the center. Since the 1970s theorists studying this process have predicted a galactic center swarming with thousands of black holes bounded by an outer "cusp" beyond which the black holes' numbers should plummet.

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