Milky Way Galaxy is Slowly Increasing in Size, Study Suggests

Terry Joseph
April 6, 2018

The findings suggest that there are upwards of 10,000 surrounding the galactic centre. And since most black holes can't even be spotted that way, they calculate that there are likely thousands of them there. So there's still a lot of empty space and gas amid all those black holes.

Researchers hope the star, known as J0815+4729, which is in line with the Lynx constellation, will help them learn more about the Big Bang, the popular theory about the galaxy's evolution. The orbiting pair is called a black hole binary.

This week, a team of scientists led by Charles Hailey, from the University of Columbia (USA), announced in Nature magazine the discovery of several binary systems in which a part of the couple is a black hole. For instance, in the crowded heart of a galaxy, black holes may have more opportunities to pair up with nearby stars-and then slurp material from them, generating x rays in the process-than they do in sparser regions of the star group. Hailey and his colleagues went back through archived observations made by this telescope to look for evidence of black holes.

"There's lots of action going on there", said study lead author Chuck Hailey.

How supermassive black holes grow so large is still controversial.

Despite telescopes being trained on the galactic centre for more than a decade, astrophysicists have had no joy. Astrophysicist Chuck Hailey at Columbia University says black holes are just freakish. They form after the spectacular death of a massive star - about 10 times that of our own sun - a supernova explosion that can outshine the star's host galaxy.

Their calculations show that, based on star motions, galaxies similar to the Milky Way are expanding by about 1,640 feet (500 meters) per second.

"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".

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"This is a small number of sources, but they're very intriguing", says Fiona Harrison, an astrophysicist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena who was not involved with the work.

"So we're looking at the very, very, very center of our galaxy".

Stars form as gas and dust succumb to gravity and fusion is ignited. "It's a place that's filled with a huge amount of gas and dust, and it's jammed with a huge number of stars", Hailey says. These black holes eventually are believed to congregate around the centre. "It won't be quick, but if you could travel forward in time and look at the galaxy in 3 billion years' time it would be about five percent bigger than today", said Martínez-Lombilla.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: She says if this new study is correct, the centers of galaxies could be chock-full of black holes having weird interactions with each other and with the supermassive black holes that they swarm around. "So they kind of just collect there, it's sort of like a junkyard ... they can't escape the pull from the supermassive black hole so they just kind of sit there".

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.

Our galaxy is considered fairly normal, which means that gravitational wave theorists can can make predictions on how many gravitational wave events might happen in other galaxies.

"This finding confirms a major theory and the implications are many", said Hailey.

Hailey noted that despite the theory that thousands of black holes should be close to each other, relatively few of the celestial bodies have actually been discovered in the Milky Way.

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