Astronomers have found one of the minor black holes to date, lying just 1,500 light-years away, making it the closest one to our planet Earth found so far. And they have named it “the Unicorn.”
According to a statement from the Ohio State University, the black hole was given the nickname because it’s rare and discovered in the constellation Monoceros, which means unicorn.
Though it’s approximately three times the sun’s mass, the size is considered small for a black hole.
“The Unicorn” seems to be a companion to a red giant star, which is how scientists were able to discover it, the university’s release stated. Since black holes aren’t noticeable, researchers could locate this one after examining data documenting certain changes in the companion star.
“When we analyzed the data, this black hole – the Unicorn – just jumped out,” said lead author Tharindu Jayasinghe, a Ph.D. student in astronomy at Ohio State.
After seeing something was causing the red giant’s appearance and intensity to change, Jayasinghe and other scientists noticed something was pulling at the star, an effect called a tidal distortion.
One possible reason for this effect is a black hole, but lately, scientists have considered black holes of such a small mass to exist, possibly the university release said.
“When you look in a unique way, which is what we’re doing, you find several things,” said Kris Stanek, an astronomy professor at Ohio State and study co-author. “Tharindu looked at this thing that so many other people had looked at, and rather than dismissing the possibility that it could be a black hole, he said, ‘Well, what if it could be a black hole?'”