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Astronomers May Have Discovered the First Wandering Black Hole

For the first time, Astronomers may have done the seemingly impossible and discovered a travelling black hole. By definition, black holes are invisible because not even light can escape their powerful gravitational attraction. For the first time in recent years, the worldwide partnership behind the Event Horizon Telescope was able to picture black holes. When we look at these photographs, however, the light we perceive is actually a disc of hot gas and material ringing the black hole’s edge.

As is the case with the supermassive black hole at the heart of the Milky Way, black holes are sometimes visible because one or more stars orbit them. However, Astronomers believe that hundreds of millions of black holes are circling the galaxy in more remote areas. Now, scientists have discovered what may be a neutron star or a roving lone wolf of a black hole wrapped in its own gravity’s unbreakable strength. For the first time, this was accomplished by studying how the same force bends the light from a faraway star, a process known as gravitational microlensing.

“This is the first free-floating black hole or neutron star identified with gravitational microlensing,” said Jessica Lu, an astronomy professor at the University of California, Berkeley. “We can explore and weigh these lonely, small objects using microlensing. I believe we have created a new window into these dark things that were previously unseen.”

Lu was part of one of two teams that looked at the same data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope’s microlensing event. Their work has been approved for publication in The Astrophysical Journal Letters in a forthcoming edition.

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