Published: Thu, April 05, 2018
Research | By Derrick Holloway

The galaxy is expanding every second, scientists

The galaxy is expanding every second, scientists

A Columbia University-led team of astrophysicists is the first to corroborate the theory.

According to the published study, as many as 20,000 black holes are predicted to settle into the central parsec of the Galaxy as a result of the forces of dynamical friction.

Scientists have suggested for decades that lots of stellar black holes are circling in the center of galaxies, including ours.

"Everything you'd ever want to learn about the way big black holes interact with little black holes, you can learn by studying this distribution", said lead author Chuck Hailey, co-director of the Columbia Astrophysics Lab.

The Milky Way has already devoured hundreds of smaller galaxies over its lifetime, and to this day continues to absorb the dwarf satellites that surround us.

"In a sense, this is the only laboratory we have to study this phenomenon".

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This confirms the idea that scientists have speculated that black holes sink to the center of galaxies and accumulate.

"There hasn't been much credible evidence". But mostly the center of the galaxy is the flawless "hot house" for black hole formation, with lots of dust and gas. Furthermore, all black holes in the nearby vicinity of Sagittarius A* are held close by its massive gravitational pull.

Their trick, Professor Hailey said, was to look for lower-energy X-rays - a signature of a black hole binary - in the midst of higher-energy X-rays, which are a hallmark of white dwarf binaries.

Scientists using x-ray observations found signs of a dozen black holes in the inner circle of the Milky Way.

"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". Binary systems are star systems where at least one of the components is a black hole.

Based on data from studying black holes closer to Earth, they extrapolated there must be about 500 binaries around our galaxy's core in all, majority too dim to observe. "The star dumps gas into a disk around the black hole, and that disk is good at making X-rays".

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Black holes have earned their name for a reason-they're incredibly hard to spot because they don't give off any energy readings unless they're actively chowing down on matter or information that can be recorded.

The team turned to archival data from the Chandra X-ray Observatory to test their approach.

United States astrophysicist Dr Chuck Hailey, from Columbia University in New York City, said: "This finding confirms a major theory and the implications are many". Since the ripples are emitted whenever black holes collide, or fall into the center of the galaxy, estimating the population of these black holes might help refine the estimates of the number of gravitational wave events.

Scientists had previously identified five dozen black holes in the rest of the galaxy, further from the centre.

The research was funded by NASA.

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