Andromeda321 OP t1_jea9l51 wrote


Andromeda321 OP t1_je9wwr9 wrote

  1. Not common at all, that's why it's literally only happened two times. Happens much more commonly when searching for exoplanets however.

  2. It does! It implies the rate of black holes is much higher than previously thought!


Andromeda321 OP t1_je9pock wrote

Astronomer here! I posted about a month ago about helping discover the second closest black hole to Earth. At that point, we hadn’t undergone peer review, but in the first time in memory the paper was accepted with absolutely no comments by the referee. Huzzah! So thanks to such a speedy process, the paper is published today and we got to do a press release celebrating this new black hole population we are uncovering in our neighborhood!

Can’t wait to see what we find next!


Andromeda321 OP t1_je9p2rd wrote

Astronomer here- I’m actually the 3rd author on this paper, and am quoted in this press release! It means I helped discover the second closest black hole to Earth, just 3800 light years from us! Paper available here

Now first thing to clarify is, this is truly the lead author's discovery (Kareem El-Badry), who is an amazing astronomer. What he's been doing is going into the Gaia catalog (which carefully tracks the precise movement of billions of sources) and being great at finding "needle in a haystack" type things. In this case, the thing was a red giant star, about the same mass as our sun, orbiting an unseen companion that we've concluded must be a black hole, named Gaia BH2.

How do you do this? Well as you might recall, orbital mechanics state that if you have two objects in space gravitationally bound, they will orbit a common point of interest. When this happens, you'll see the objects "wobble" in their movement back and forth over the course of their mutual orbit (which is how we find many exoplanets, in fact!) What Kareem did, strictly speaking, was find a star with a weird "wobble" in the data... and that "wobble" indicated the star's orbit was in a period of P= 1277 days, and the companion it was orbiting would be a compact object ~9x the mass of the sun.

Now, a star 9x the mass of the sun would be stupid bright, and very obvious bc this visible star is pretty bright on its own (12th magnitude). Definitely nothing there in follow-up observations, so it's not a star. So basically at this point, the argument is "if only we knew of something that was very massive, so massive light doesn't escape it... oh yeah, a black hole!"

Now the trick is some black holes do emit at low levels, thanks to accreting dust onto them- this happens in closer star- black hole pairs, called X-ray binaries. This emission is basically created as particles get close to the event horizon of the black hole, "feeding" it, and how we can spot them usually in radio and X-rays. And, well, we know this star pretty well because we can see it, and every star will have some amount of particles coming off of it in a stellar wind (like the sun does, and how we get the aurora), which is pretty well understood for stars of this type. So then the question is- is Gaia BH2 emitting at any wavelength?

Now this is where I come in, in my role of someone who knows a thing or two about how to get radio observations of weird black holes. :) Kareem is in my institute and came in to tell me about this object a few months ago, and that he'd discovered the closest period in its ~3.5 year orbit was happening this past month! (Yes, that's a bit of luck- in science it's good to be lucky sometimes!) So if you want to detect particles interacting with the black hole, your best chance of seeing it is basically now. Also, it was a very southern hemisphere object, so not just any telescope can look at it.

So, what I did was file for emergency time to use the MeerKAT telescope in South Africa, the best telescope on Earth to do this observation, asking for a several-hour observation of Gaia BH2. Luckily, they agreed and granted the time, so we took a look a few weeks ago! (And I have now officially hung up my shingle as a "black hole consultant" btw- my rates are very reasonable! :) )

Now, the bad news is, we did not detect any radio emission from Gaia BH2 (nor did the Chandra X-ray telescope.) You can see the details in Figure 10 of the paper linked at top. But the good news is this is actually massively helpful, because there is so much we don't understand about black holes! For example, how does this accretion process work for emission from black holes? Our data is good enough that we can say most of those stellar wind particles never reach the event horizon- maybe there are strong winds blowing them away, or similar. Not as exciting as a detection, but still really useful!

Anyway, moving on from that, Gaia BH2 is exciting because as the name implies, it's the second such Gaia black hole- the first being Gaia BH1. This discovery happened a few months ago (press release if you missed it then), and that one happens to be the closest black hole to Earth that we know of (and why Gaia BH2 is second- this one has the largest orbit known for a black hole though). This is super exciting because it now implies that these black holes in orbits are actually rather common in space- more common than ones where the black hole and star are closer at this rate!- and the trouble is detecting them. (It's also not clear how they form, so some nice work for theorists to do.) Well, for now- the good news is Gaia is still taking data, and its next data release (in ~2025) will have a lot more of these stars with mystery black hole companions in it! So, guess there will be a lot more to do!


Andromeda321 t1_je3y1r9 wrote

Magnetars. We have traced some FRB-like signals to a magnetar within our own galaxy so it’s pretty convincing a lot of them are created by even higher energy magnetars, IMO.

I feel that then begs the next question which is if ALL FRBs are created via the same mechanism, but I’m not sure we have a convincing answer there yet.


Andromeda321 t1_je2x0wt wrote

Well, publishing in Nature is actually interesting because it has a 50% retraction rate over a longer period of time. They’re an interesting journal because it’s known for taking the stance of “we would rather be sure to be the ones to publish the highest impact papers of all time even if we know a lot of these won’t stand up to the scrutiny of the scientific process over coming years.” Hope that makes sense.


Andromeda321 t1_je2wbet wrote

This particular event did not have all gravitational wave detectors online. This means the uncertainty area is really big (aka a quarter of the sky). If you have all three detectors online as once you can get it to a much smaller sky area (~100 square degrees), as well as much more precise distance estimates.


Andromeda321 t1_je2w37e wrote

Magnetars. We have traced some FRB-like signals to a magnetar within our own galaxy so it’s pretty convincing a lot of them are created by even higher energy magnetars, IMO.

I feel that then begs the next question which is if ALL FRBs are created via the same mechanism, but I’m not sure we have a convincing answer there yet.


Andromeda321 t1_je0nirk wrote

Astronomer here! I would tread very carefully in thinking this is all sorted. Why? The sky area for this gravitational wave alert was over 8000 square degrees, which is like 20% of the sky! And CHIME finds like one or two FRBs a day- eventually one is gonna overlap with a gravitational wave signal!

Now, the team argues this is more likely than chance because the rough distance estimate from the FRB matches that of the gravitational wave signal. Problem there is if you look at the GW signal’s stats, it’s from 280-740 million years distant is the range you could get from this signal. That is huge! Millions of galaxies in that amount of sky at that amount of distance, in fact! If you ask me, really not convincing over just a random coincidence.

Finally, if FRBs were correlated with gravitational waves, another question pops up- why haven’t we seen this happen for other, better localized, events? Instead it’s very clear the rate of FRBs and the rate of what creates gravitational wave signals (ie neutron star mergers if you follow this paper’s argument) are super out of sync. There just plain aren’t enough mergers to explain the giant numbers or FRBs- some of which also repeat, which an explosive one off event like a merger doesn’t support.

TL;DR I remain skeptical until better evidence is shown, because correlation does not equal causation


Andromeda321 t1_jc6o1k9 wrote

It’s one of those things that are exceptionally region dependent. I lived in the Netherlands for example and all the power lines were underground due to sandy soil, power went out maybe once in the five years I was there. But I can tell you right now, NH soil sure isn’t like it was there!


Andromeda321 t1_jb4z49u wrote

I definitely know some of my parents’ friends who are snowbirds haven’t taken their Florida plated car all the way to Florida in years- they just get the stickers sent to their address there and bring them up (and no Florida annual inspection so you can do that, and is cheaper than NH). Usually when it’s time to buy a new car and they realize they’re not up for that driving every year, and can afford two cars so why not do two.

So, that answers your question!


Andromeda321 t1_janpbcr wrote

They do- literally all papers do in astro. It's an amazing resource.

The point of this move is the UK funding agencies have prioritized open access across all of science. Which is great... but in the case of astronomy, it already basically is. The only ones paying for access these days are basically universities and the like.