The closest black hole to Earth is a stellar mass black hole just 1,600 lightyears away called Gaia BH1.

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The black hole has set a new record for the closest known black hole to Earth.

Its presence was revealed after ESA’s Gaia space telescope observed the unusual motion of its stellar companion, a Sun-like star.

Closer inspection of the star’s motion revealed it was orbiting around an unseen black hole with a mass 10 times that of our Sun.

An artist's impression of the Gaia spacecraft mapping the Milky Way Copyright ESA/ATG medialab; background: ESO/S. Brunier
An artist's impression of the Gaia spacecraft mapping the Milky Way. Credit: ESA/ATG medialab; background: ESO/S. Brunier

"This is the first unambiguous detection of a Sun-like star in a wide orbit around a stellar-mass black hole in our Galaxy," says Kareen El-Badry from the Center
for Astrophysics, Harvard and Smithsonian, who led the study.

Stellar pair Gaia BH1 are about as far apart as Earth and the Sun, leaving astronomers struggling to explain how the star managed to survive the hypergiant phase its companion must have gone through before collapsing into a black hole.

"It is interesting that this system is not easily accommodated by standard binary evolution models," says El-Badry.

"It poses many questions about how this binary system was formed."

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www.gaia.ac.uk

Authors

Elizabeth Pearson
Ezzy PearsonScience journalist

Ezzy Pearson is the Features Editor of BBC Sky at Night Magazine. Her first book about the history of robotic planetary landers is out now from The History Press.