Black holes are speeding through the universe at almost incomprehensible speeds, scientists have discovered.
During their dramatic birth, the monsters are given such a ‘kick’ that they end up travelling more than 80 times faster than a bullet.
The beasts can reach speeds of more than 150,000 miles per hour, which is more than enough to escape the ‘clusters’ they live inside and set on a rampage through space.
To examine the ‘recoil’ and ‘natal kick’ of newborn black holes, a team from Australian and European universities studied the movements of black hole binary x-ray star systems – pairs of objects, of which at least one is a black hole.
They analysed the orbits of these systems to find the holes in them must have received a powerful kick at birth that set them travelling at speeds of up to 43 miles per second.
Of course, the holes are unlikely to wander around alone forever because they’ll get involved in some sort of entanglement with other objects and star systems as they travel, eating some of the things they encounter and forming an orbital relationship of some kind with others.
The behemoths form in a variety of ways, including the death of a star in a dramatic supernova explosion.
A black hole is often left behind after a star goes kaboom.
‘Black holes formed in a SN explosion could also get large kicks at birth,’ the team wrote in a pre-publication paper.
The scientists said their findings ‘reduce the number of black holes likely to be retained in globular clusters’, which could mean a beast is more likely to escape its birthplace and rove out into the universe to meet its destiny.
The nearest known black hole to Earth is thought to be a whopping 3,000 light-years away.
But you shouldn’t sigh a breath of relief just yet because there’s a chance an undetected monster could be hiding much closer to Earth.
Earlier this year, a study claimed there are as many as 100,000,000 ‘isolated black holes’ lurking undetected in the Milky Way, humanity’s home galaxy.
Black holes come in a range of sizes. The biggest are called supermassive black holes, which are gigantic leviathans often found at the centre of galaxies.
The largest of these beasts has a mass equivalent to tens of billions of suns.
Then you have smaller, stellar-mass holes which ‘typically weigh between five and 10 times more than our star.
So far the only stellar-mass holes we’ve spotted exist in a binary system with another star, which means they are orbiting each other like the systems mentioned in the more recent study covered at the top of this article.
Often, the hole is slowly eating the star by sucking the gas from its surface.
But in their paper, Japanese astronomers said a vast number of ‘isolated black holes’ are ‘believed to be lurking in our galaxy’.
We’ve never actually observed one of these cosmic colossi, which are -powerful enough to do very bad things to Earth and the Solar System.
So you might be glad to hear that the researchers think there’s a way of detecting isolated holes.
In their paper, a team said these stealthy behemoths emit ‘synchrotron radiation’ during ‘outflows’ produced as they suck up gas.
This means could find the holes by scanning the sky and look for the signals generated by the hungry holes as they feed.
The team think that it will be possible to find more than 700 of the greedy space goliaths in the coming years.
If we were on a collision course with a black hole, it would be disastrous. If it skirted our solar system, its gravity could disturb the orbit of space rocks orbiting at a long distance from the sun, putting them on a new course which could mean they hit Earth.
If it sped right through the middle, the hole could basically eat up all the planets including our own.
It’s believed that anyone who was sucked into a hole would undergo a process called ‘spaghettification’ in which they are stretched out into long, thin strands.
However, we’re glad to report that we’re not currently believed to be doomed to face a close encounter with a black hole.
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