Вадим Дудченко
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Astronomers using the Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope have discovered a low-mass black hole in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, some 160,000 light-years away.

This artist’s impression shows NGC 1850 BH1 and a massive star orbiting it. The distortion of the star’s shape is due to the strong gravitational force exerted by the black hole. Image credit: M. Kornmesser / ESO.

The newly-discovered black hole resides in NGC 1850, a 100-million-year-old stellar cluster in the Large Magellanic Cloud.

Named NGC 1850 BH1, the black hole is roughly 11 times as massive as our Sun.

The object is part of a binary system; its companion is a main-sequence turn-off star with a mass of 4.9 solar masses.

Astronomers have previously detected stellar-mass black holes in other galaxies by picking up X-ray glow emitted as they swallow matter, or from the gravitational waves generated as black holes collide with one another or with neutron stars.

However, most stellar-mass black holes don’t give away their presence through X-rays or gravitational waves.

“The vast majority can only be unveiled dynamically,” said Dr. Stefan Dreizler, an astronomer at the University of Göttingen.

“When they form a system with a star, they will affect its motion in a subtle but detectable way, so we can find them with sophisticated instruments.”

Dr. Dreizler and his colleagues analyzed data collected over two years with the MUSE instrument.

This allowed the astronomers to spot the odd star out whose peculiar motion signaled the presence of the black hole.

The new data from the University of Warsaw’s Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE) and the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope enabled the team to measure the mass of the black hole and confirm their findings.

“MUSE allowed us to observe very crowded areas, like the innermost regions of stellar clusters, analyzing the light of every single star in the vicinity,” said MUSE team member Dr. Sebastian Kamann, an astronomer in the Astrophysics Research Institute at Liverpool John Moores University.

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

The detection in NGC 1850 marks the first time a black hole has been found in a young cluster of stars.

“This represents the first direct dynamical detection of a black hole in a young massive cluster, opening up the possibility of studying the initial mass function and the early dynamical evolution of such compact objects in high-density environments,” the authors said.

Their paper was published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.


S. Saracino et al. A black hole detected in the young massive LMC cluster NGC 1850. MNRAS, published online November 11, 2021; doi: 10.1093/mnras/stab3159


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