Black hole warning as gigantic cannibal region of spacetime devours host star


The terrifying discovery was made some 160,000 light-years away using the European Southern Observatory's (ESO's) Very Large Telescope (VLT). Although black holes cannot be seen by the naked eye - hence the term "black" - astronomers can observe the effect they have on the objects surrounding them. In this particular case, the team was investigating how black holes influence the motion of stars within close proximity.

They believe the technique can be used to reveal multitudes of otherwise hidden black holes lurking in the depths of space.

Lead investigator, Dr Sara Saracino of Liverpool John Moores University said, likened the process to combing through a crime scene using a large magnifying glass.

She said: "Similar to Sherlock Holmes tracking down a criminal kingpin by the strange movements of their 'associates', we are looking at every single star in this cluster with a proverbial magnifying glass trying to find some evidence of where the real power lies."

The astronomers focused their attention on the NGC 1850 star cluster, which forms part of the Large Magellanic Cloud.

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Black hole warning as gigantic cannibal region of spacetime devours host star

Astronomers have identified a new black hole in the NGC 1850 cluster (Image: GETTY STOCK IMAGE)

Black hole warning as gigantic cannibal region of spacetime devours host star

The NGC 1850 cluster is part of the Large Magellanic Cloud (Image: NASA, ESA, and Martino Romaniello (European Southern Observatory, Germany))

The astronomers were able to pinpoint the black hole's location because it appears to be devouring a neighbouring star weighing about 4.9 times as much as the Sun.

Astronomers refer to these systems as black hole binaries - systems where two black holes or a black hole and star are in close orbit of one another.

"Stellar mass" black holes have been previously detected in other galaxies by observing their X-ray signatures from swallowed matter or by picking up the gravitational shockwaves of two black holes colliding.

In this case, however, the researchers claim to have used a "dynamic" detection method for the very first time.

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Black hole warning as gigantic cannibal region of spacetime devours host star

Sun fact sheet: Incredible facts about our star (Image: EXPRESS)

Black hole warning as gigantic cannibal region of spacetime devours host star

The Very Large Telescope is found in Chile's Atacama Desert (Image: GETTY)

Dr Sebastian Kamann, at Liverpool’s Astrophysics Research Institute, said: "MUSE allowed us to observe very crowded areas, like the innermost regions of stellar clusters, analysing the light of every single star in the vicinity.

"The net result is information about thousands of stars in one shot, at least 10 times more than with any other instrument."

The instruments allowed them to see spot a star whose motion seemed out of the ordinary.

They then confirmed the black hole's mass using the Hubble Space Telescope and data from the University of Warsaw’s Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment.