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Explore the Milky Way's Monster Black Hole with This Virtual Tour

Last month, scientists announced the discovery of thousands of black holes at the heart of our galaxy. Now, you can explore the monster black hole at the core of the Milky Way that's surrounded by that black-hole swarm, thanks to a new virtual tour released by NASA.

The individual black holes are estimated to be five to 30 times the mass of our sun, and all were found within three light-years from the monster black hole, called Sagittarius A*.

"Researchers combed through data from NASA's Chandra X-Ray Observatory, looking for possible black holes in close orbit with a star," researchers said in a new video posted on the Chandra website. "They found about a dozen strong black-hole candidates within a very short distance of the supermassive black hole at the galactic center. This implies the presence of other undetected stellar-mass black holes. Up to a thousand stellar-mass black holes could be present."

The video zooms in on Sagittarius A*, with suspected locations of other black holes circled in the animation. But there are other possible explanations for the X-ray sources. At least half of the observed X-ray radiation might be from rapidly rotating neutron stars that have strong magnetic fields, according to scientists at the Chandra X-Ray Observatory.

But if the observed sources are indeed black holes, scientists are particularly interested in those that have companion stars. One reason is that the discovery could help scientists better understand gravitational waves, or ripples in space-time caused by interactions between massive objects. The first confirmed detection of gravitational waves was in 2015, and observations continue with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory and Virgo interferometer collaborations.

A paper based on the new Chandra results was published April 5 (opens in new tab) in the journal Nature. The work was led by Charles J. Hailey, co-director of the Columbia Astrophysics Laboratory at Columbia University in New York.

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Elizabeth Howell
Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she also tackles topics like diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, three space shuttle missions in Florida, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Her latest book, Leadership Moments from NASA, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.