First ‘dormant’ stellar black hole discovered by debunking team

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PARIS: A team of astrophysicists known for debunking previous supposed black holes announced a discovery of their own : the first “dormant” stellar-mass black hole spotted orbiting a star in a nearby galaxy.

While these black holes are thought to be common throughout the universe, they have proved difficult to find, and they have themselves rejected several possible candidates in recent years.

Now the international team has found a “needle in a haystack,” said Tomer Shenar, an astrophysicist at the University of Amsterdam and lead author of a new study in the Nature Astronomy journal.

The team was searching the skies for something that could eventually become a binary black hole, in which two black holes orbit each other after swallowing their stars in a supernovae explosion.

“We found a quite massive star, that weighs 25 times the mass of our Sun, that is orbiting around something that we do not see,” Shenar told AFP.

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They believe the blue star, which is in the Large Magellanic Cloud galaxy that neighbours our Milky Way, is locked in a death dance with a black hole that has nine times the mass of our Sun.

These kinds of black holes are normally detected by the X-ray radiation they emit as they collect material from their companion star.

But this binary system, known as VFTS 243, is called dormant because it does not emit X-rays — it is not close enough to suck matter from its star.

Hugues Sana, astrophysicist at the KU Leuven University in Belgium, said the Milky Way alone is thought to have around 100 million stellar-mass black holes, which are far smaller than their supermassive big brothers.

However only 10 have been found, said Sana, a co-author of the study.

This could be because many are laying dormant, biding their time to eventually swallow their companion star.

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