Black holes are undoubtedly the most mysterious and at the same time the most fascinating objects in the Universe. A supermassive was photographed in 2019, but many roam space. In fact, astronomers estimate that there are 100 million in our galaxy alone!
So naturally, some of these black holes lurk in space photos. Do you think you can spot them? Astronomers are looking for help finding black holes in photographs, and you may be the one to help.
A research team from the Open University and the University of Southampton have published a project black hole hunters. It looks like a show on the Discovery Channel, but it’s a citizen science project, one of many published on Zooniverse. “We know that there should be large numbers of black holes orbiting companion stars or simply drifting alone through the cosmos,” the researchers write. “Lensing is one of the best (and only) ways for us to find them, but we need help from citizen scientists.”
Royal Astronomical Society explains how black holes are formed:
“The most massive stars explode as they age, and what’s left of the star after the explosion condenses into an extremely small area – a black hole. Containing about the same amount of mass as our Sun and compressed in space only a few kilometers in diameter, black holes have a very strong gravitational field that nothing, not even light, can escape from. For this reason, black holes can be difficult to detect, but they can often be found when matter falls into them – a process known as feeding.Due to their strong gravitational pull, matter falls so rapidly that it heats up and emits powerful X-rays, making it possible to find nourishing black holes.
However, the problem is that not all black holes feed. And these are the ones you are supposed to be looking for. They are hidden because nothing falls into them and there are no x-rays to tell us where they are. However, there is another telltale sign that can give them away. “A black hole’s gravity is strong enough that it can deflect starlight,” the company writes. It acts like “a magnifying glass that makes starlight brighter for a short period of time.”
Since there may be 100 million black holes, this is a job that cannot be done by computers alone or by a handful of scientists. Researchers need your eagle eye to help them find these intriguing objects. Adam McMaster, one of the project co-leads, said in a statement:
“I can’t wait to see what we come up with with the Black Hole Hunters project. The black holes we are looking for should certainly exist, but none have yet been found. Our research should give us the first clues to the number of black holes quietly orbiting stars, ultimately helping us understand how these systems form. Finding them is a huge task and not something we could do alone, so it’s great that anyone with internet access can get involved, regardless of their knowledge of astronomy.
If you would like to join the search, visit Black Hole Hunters Project website. All you have to do is look at some simple graphs showing how the brightness of the stars has changed and let the team know if any resemble the kinds of changes they’re looking for.
[via Digital Trends; lead image credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center; background, ESA/Gaia/DPAC]