Small black hole is discovered hiding in a star cluster 160,000 light years away in a breakthrough that could help solve the mystery of how these voids form and evolve

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  • Black hole found in a cluster of stars called NGC 1850 160,000 light years away
  • It was discovered by astronomers using the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile
  • Scientists describe black hole as ‘small’ – about 11 times the mass of our Sun

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According to the report of scientists, a ‘small’ black hole has been discovered in a star cluster 160,000 light years away from Earth.

The newly-discovered black hole was observed in NGC 1850, a cluster of thousands of stars approximately 160,000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a neighboring galaxy of the Milky Way.

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Astronomers used the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in northern Chile’s Atacama Desert to detect the black hole, which despite being small, is about 11 times the mass of our Sun.

Black holes are regions of spacetime where gravitational pull is so strong that even light cannot escape. They act as intense sources of gravity that engulf the surrounding dust and gas.

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This artist’s impression shows a compact black hole that is 11 times larger than the Sun and a five-solar-mass star orbiting it. The two objects are located in NGC 1850, a cluster of thousands of stars about 160,000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a Milky Way neighbor. The distortion of the shape of the star is caused by the strong gravitational force exerted by the black hole. The gravitational force of a black hole not only distorts the shape of a star, but it also affects its orbit.

A black hole has a gravitational pull so strong that not even light can escape

Black holes are so dense and their gravitational pull is so strong that no type of radiation can escape them – not even light.

They act as intense sources of gravity that engulf the dust and gas around them. Their strong gravitational pull is believed to drive galaxies orbiting around the star.

How they are formed is still poorly understood. Astronomers believe they may have formed when a massive cloud of gas 100,000 times larger than the Sun collapsed into a black hole.

Many of these black hole seeds then merge to form the very large supermassive black holes, which are found at the center of every known giant galaxy.

Alternatively, a supermassive black hole seed could come from a massive star, some 100 times the mass of the Sun, that eventually turns into a black hole when it runs out of fuel and collapses.

When these giant stars die, they also go ‘supernova’, a huge explosion that ejects matter from the outer layers of the star into deep space.

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The description of the newly found black hole as ‘small’ refers to its mass, not diameter, which cannot be measured.

At just 11 solar masses, it’s barely anything compared to supermassive black holes, which range in size from 1 million to 10 billion times the mass of our Sun.

The research is led by Dr Sarah Sarascino from the Astrophysics Research Institute at Liverpool John Moores University.

The team discovered the black hole by observing how it affects the motion of a star in its vicinity. This is the first time this detection method has been used to reveal the presence of black holes outside our galaxy.

The method could be important for unveiling hidden black holes in the Milky Way and nearby galaxies, and shed light on how they form and evolve.

‘To track down a criminal gang like Sherlock Holmes from their missteps, we’re looking at every single star in this cluster with a magnifying glass in one hand, trying to find some evidence for the presence of a black hole. but without seeing them directly,’ Dr. Saracino said.

‘The result shown here represents just one of the wanted criminals, but when you have found one, you are well on your way to searching for many others in different groups.’

As the name suggests, star clusters are clusters of hundreds to millions of stars that share a common origin, all gravitationally bound for many billions of years.

There are two types of star clusters – open and circular. Globular clusters are dense balls of about a million ancient stars, all gravitationally bound. Open clusters are much smaller and smaller than globular clusters.

According to experts at Penn State University, open clusters are usually a few tens of millions or even hundreds of millions of years old, while globular clusters are typically around 12 billion to 13 billion years old.

An incredible shot of the star cluster NGC 1850, captured by the Hubble Space Telescope.  NGC 1850 was discovered by Scottish astronomer James Dunlop in 1826.

An incredible shot of the star cluster NGC 1850, captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. NGC 1850 was discovered by Scottish astronomer James Dunlop in 1826.

Supermassive black holes are at the center of galaxies

Supermassive black holes are the objects found at the center of most galaxies.

Their mass is millions to billions of times greater than the mass of the Sun and they do not let out anything, not even light.

The supermassive black hole in the Milky Way is known as Sagittarius A*.

There is also a class of ultramassive black holes, whose mass is at least 10 billion times the mass of Son.

Even larger, masses 100 billion times the mass of the Sun have been dubbed massive black holes.

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NGC 1850, discovered by Scottish astronomer James Dunlop in 1826, is defined as a super star cluster, meaning that it is an open cluster that is poised to become a globular cluster.

A black hole was first detected in a young group of stars in NGC 1850. NGC 1850 is only about 100 million years old, at astronomical scales in the blink of an eye.

“We can’t say with certainty that this is the youngest black hole ever detected because black holes in this region are very difficult to detect,” Dr Sarasino told MailOnline.

‘With a mass 11 times the mass of the Sun, it is well within the range of possible masses for objects of this type. In other words, it is not extreme.’

To carry out their discovery of NGC 1850, the team used data collected over two years with the Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) aboard the VLT.

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