A Columbia University-led team of astrophysicists has discovered a dozen black holes gathered around Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), the supermassive black hole in the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. Thsi supports the theory that there are tens of thousands of blackholes in he milky way galaxy.
In the past, failed attempts to find evidence of such a cusp have focused on looking for the bright burst of X-ray glow that occurs when black holes mate with companion stars.
“It’s an obvious way to want to look for black holes,” Hailey said, “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.” To detect black hole binaries then, Hailey and his colleagues realized they would need to look for the fainter, but steadier X-rays emitted after the initial bonding, when the binaries are in an inactive state.
“It would be so easy if black hole binaries routinely gave off big bursts like neutron star binaries do, but they don’t, so we had to come up with another way to look for them,” Hailey said. “Isolated, unmated black holes are just black — they don’t do anything. So looking for isolated black holes is not a smart way to find them either. But when black holes mate with a low mass star, the marriage emits X-ray bursts that are weaker, but consistent and detectable. If we could find black holes that are coupled with low mass stars and we know what fraction of black holes will mate with low mass stars, we could scientifically infer the population of isolated black holes out there.”
Hailey and colleagues turned to archival data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory to test their technique. They searched for X-ray signatures of black hole-low mass binaries in their inactive state and were able to find 12 within three light years, of Sgr A*. The researchers then analyzed the properties and spatial distribution of the identified binary systems and extrapolated from their observations that there must be anywhere from 300 to 500 black hole-low mass binaries and about 10,000 isolated black holes in the area surrounding Sgr A*.
This finding confirms a major theory and the implications are many,” Hailey said. “It is going to significantly advance gravitational wave research because knowing the number of black holes in the center of a typical galaxy can help in better predicting how many gravitational wave events may be associated with them. All the information astrophysicists need is at the center of the galaxy.”
Astronomers have observed a dozen quiescent X-ray binaries in a density cusp within one parsec of SagittariusA. The lower-energy emission spectra that we observed in these binaries is distinct from the higher-energy spectra associated with the population of accreting white dwarfs that dominates the central eight parsecs of the Galaxy. The properties of these X-ray binaries, in particular their spatial distribution and luminosity function, suggest the existence of hundreds of binary systems in the central parsec of the Galaxy and many more isolated black holes. We cannot rule out a contribution to the observed emission from a population (of up to about one-half the number of X-ray binaries) of rotationally powered, millisecond pulsar.