Scientists at Ohio University discovered a rhinoceros. Not a white horse with a goat’s head and cleft feet, nor the cute, fashionable animal with multi-colored plasticity one finds in children’s books. Not seriously, they discovered a tiny black hole, called a unicorn, 1,500 light-years from Earth.
It is the smallest ever observed and the closest to our planet, according to the researchers whose results were published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
The fact that it only weighs three suns makes it one of the smallest black holes ever found. In fact, very few black holes for that “light” have been observed in the universe, the Ohio University notes. It may also be “the smallest black hole in the Milky Way that has been discovered so far,” said Thaindo Jayasingh, a doctoral student at Ohio State and one of the study’s authors.
This cosmic being, “Unicorn”, has been baptized from the name of the constellation it is in.
This unicorn distorts its star
Astrophysicists’ tools have not seen this small black hole directly: its existence was inferred by the attraction it exerts on a nearby red giant star, causing it to slightly deform it.
In fact, scientists focused on a nearby star called V 7232 Mon that seemed to regularly change in brightness but also … is distorted! For researchers, this meant that something not far from her had an effect on the star. By analyzing the images sent by NASA’s TESS telescope, astronomers were able to observe that this distortion could only be caused by a black hole.
Since the moon’s gravitational pull deforms the oceans on Earth, causing tides, the black hole deforms the star into a shape similar to that of a soccer ball (understand American football, and thus the shape of a rugby ball, Notice Todd ThompsonCo-author of the study. The simplest explanation is the existence of a black hole.
Unlike many black holes that swallow surrounding stars, this unicorn is much less greedy and is content – for now – to discredit its neighbor.
Thanks to observations made near V 7232 Mon, scientists are now expecting to discover other small black holes. Every discovery like this gives them a better understanding of the formation and death of stars in our universe.