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Astronomers have discovered a dozen smaller black holes orbiting near Sagittarius A* (pronounced “A-star”), the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way.
Charles Hailey from Columbia University in New York and colleagues used archival data from Nasa’s Chandra X-ray telescope to come to their conclusions. They report the discovery of a dozen inactive and low-mass “binary systems”, in which a star orbits an unseen companion – the black hole.
The supermassive black hole at the centre of the Milky Way, known as Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), is surrounded by a halo of gas and dust that provides the perfect breeding ground for the birth of massive stars. These stars live, die and could turn into black holes there. In addition, black holes from outside the halo are believed to fall under the influence of Sgr A* as they lose their energy, causing them to be pulled into its vicinity, where they are held captive by its force. Some of these bind – or “mate” – to passing stars, forming binary systems.
They have extrapolated their data to predict the existence of thousands more of these small black holes near the galaxy’s center.