Scientists have long searched for proof of the decades-old theory that black holes surround the supermassive black hole known as Sagittarius A* that lies at the heart of our galaxy.
By tweaking their approach just a little, astronomers have now turned up the first direct evidence that they do in fact exist, creating new opportunities to study the interplay between regular black holes and their much bigger brethren.
Sometimes when a black hole is sucked into and held in the vicinity of a supermassive black hole, they will latch onto a nearby star to form a stellar binary. This mating generates a big burst of X-ray light, which has provided black hole-hunters with a target to search for.
“It’s an obvious way to want to look for black holes,” explains Chuck Hailey, an astrophysicist at Columbia University and lead author on the new study. “But the Galactic Center is so far away from Earth that those bursts are only strong and bright enough to see about once every 100 to 1,000 years.”