Astronomers may have detected a ‘dark’ free-floating black hole

June 16, 2022

If, as astronomers believe, the death of large stars leave behind black holes, there should be hundreds of millions of them scattered throughout the Milky Way galaxy. The problem is, isolated black holes are invisible.

Now, a team led by University of California, Berkeley, astronomers has for the first time discovered what may be a free-floating black hole by observing the brightening of a more distant star as its light was distorted by the object’s strong gravitational field — so-called gravitational microlensing.

The team, led by graduate student Casey Lam and Jessica Lu, a UC Berkeley associate professor of astronomy, estimates that the mass of the invisible compact object is between 1.6 and 4.4 times that of the sun. Because astronomers think that the leftover remnant of a dead star must be heavier than 2.2 solar masses in order to collapse to a black hole, the UC Berkeley researchers caution that the object could be a neutron star instead of a black hole. Neutron stars are also dense, highly compact objects, but their gravity is balanced by internal neutron pressure, which prevents further collapse to a black hole.

Berkeley News