May 19, 2024
Stellar mass black holes, which are significantly smaller than their supermassive cousins, usually weigh in at around 10 solar masses. But the European Space Agency just found one that’s more than 3 times that size.

Astronomers Discovered a Once-in-a-Lifetime ‘Sleeping Giant’ Black Hole

It’s 33 times more massive than our Sun

There are a few kinds of black holes in the cosmos, and these perplexing celestial objects are categorized by mass. As their name suggests, supermassive black holes—like Sagittarius A*, which lies at the center of the Milky Way—are the big boys of the universe, weighing in at a mind-boggling 4.3 million Suns. On the smaller end of the spectrum (relatively speaking) are stellar black holes.

While NASA and other space agencies are actively searching for answers to how supermassive black holes form, stellar black holes typically take shape when stars (that were originally 20 solar masses or more) explode into a supernova. If the star was between 8 to 20 solar masses, it usually condenses down into a neutron star. Our Sun, for what it’s worth, probably won’t share either of these fates, and will instead transform into a white dwarf and, in 10 trillion years, a black dwarf.

So, while stellar black holes don’t impact the universe quite like their supermassive counterparts, they’re solidly the silver medal recipients when it comes to massive objects in outer space. Most stellar black holes clock in at around 10 solar masses on average, but some impressive outliers do exist. For example, the first black hole ever discovered—Cygnus X-1, which is located 7,000 light-years away from Earth—clocks in at an impressive 21 solar masses.

But the European Space Agency’s Gaia (which is also busy building the world’s largest 3D map of the galaxy) has now spotted a new heavyweight champion—a stellar black hole in the constellation Aquila somewhat uninspiringly named Gaia BH3. And the discovery caught the Gaia team completely by surprise. A paper detailing the discovery was recently published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

Interesting Read…

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