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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 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 is a contributing writer for who is one of the few Canadian journalists to report regularly on space exploration. She is pursuing a Ph.D. part-time in aerospace sciences (University of North Dakota) after completing an M.Sc. (space studies) at the same institution. She also holds a bachelor of journalism degree from Carleton University. Besides writing, Elizabeth teaches communications at the university and community college level. To see her latest projects, follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @HowellSpace.