'Bonanza' of black holes has party, doesn't invite us

Poring over 13 years worth of X-ray telescope data, scientists have discovered 26 black holes in a neighboring galaxy.

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    This undated image provided by the University of Utah shows the Andromeda galaxy, made by the Hubble Space Telescope.
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There’s a party in another galaxy, and none of us were invited. 

Scientists have discovered a “bonanza" of black holes in the Andromeda Galaxy, one of the galaxies nearest to our own, some 2.5 million light years away.

As their name suggests, black holes are tough to find. These latest 26 black holes were found using more than 13 years of data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. Scientists say they expect to find more in the galaxy, where nine had already been identified using previous research, bringing the total discovered there to 35.

"While we are excited to find so many black holes in Andromeda, we think it's just the tip of the iceberg," said Robin Barnard, of Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and the lead author of the paper that will be published later this month in The Astrophysical Journal, in a press release.

The Andromeda’s new black holes belong to the stellar mass category, which form when stars with masses about five to 10 times that of our sun collapse under the force of their own gravity. The result is an object of such small size, compressed into such a small volume, that its gravitational force is inescapable – even to light itself.

Astronomers can then detect these otherwise invisible objects when material is tugged from a companion star and heated up to produce radiation – visible with X-rays – before it disappears into the black hole. 

The “bonanza” of black holes aren’t exactly “near Earth,” as a Fox News headline puts it. That would be worrying. They aren't even in our galaxy, and the galaxy where those black holes are housed won’t be near to us for several billion years, when the Andromeda and Milky Way are expected to collide, bringing the party to us.


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