Could there be a black hole lurking at the edge of the solar system?

Black holes have gripped our imaginations for years: the idea of ​​a giant, almost invisible vacuum cleaner drifting through space, ready to devour Earth in one gulp, enough to keep anyone awake at night.

But now, despite their mysterious past, we understand more about black holes and how they work than ever before.

Black holes are extremely massive bodies, with a gravitational pull so strong that not even light can escape from them. They’re thought to be incredibly common, scattered around the galaxy, probably closer than we think.

black holes
Illustration of a black hole. According to black hole expert Becky Smithhurst, there may be one lurking in the outskirts of our solar system.
iStock/Getty Images Plus

“They’re just like prisons for light matter and everything,” said astrophysicist and science reporter Dr. Becky Smithhurst. NEWSWEEK.

Some black holes are believed to have existed since the birth of the universe itself, and are referred to as primordial black holes, while others are essentially the corpses of ancient stars, collapsing on themselves after their death in a massive explosion known as a supernova.

“In the same way that there are a lot of stars hanging around the galaxy, there are a lot of black holes hanging around the galaxy as well,” Smithhurst said.

Black holes behave in the same way as any other massive object: if a black hole with the same mass as the Sun replaced it spontaneously, the Earth’s orbit would not change at all.

According to Smithhurst, there may be black holes wandering around the universe, with black holes lurking even in the outskirts of our solar system.

“Lots of stars formed in clusters,” she said. “With a black hole, what can happen, either from a supernova or interacting with other stars after that, is that you can get a ‘slingshot’ from those clusters by gravity, basically, the same way we use a gravitational slingshot around planets [for spacecraft]. “

This would then cause an interstellar black hole to wander through space.

“There may also be a black hole at the edge of the solar system,” Smithhurst said. “Like this idea that there’s another planet that we haven’t discovered yet, that could be grazing some stuff out there in these strange orbits that we’ve seen, and haven’t found.”

This is how Neptune was discovered: the orbit of Uranus was irregular, which led scientists to check whether there was another mass in the same region of the solar system. They finally found Neptune.

“[Some people] Put forward the hypothesis that the reason for not finding it [the planet] It could be because a black hole, 10 times the mass of Earth or something like that, could be classified as one of those primordial black holes, which could be hanging out at the edge of the solar system causing a bit of a mess,” Smithhurst said.

Despite their name, black holes can be detected if you know where to look.

“Maybe there’s a big halo of matter around it that collects, and there could be some antimatter in there,” Smithhurst said.

“And if he encounters this, it will create a huge blast of energy with annihilation, so we can see some gamma-ray flashes from that direction wherever they are.

“So it’s interesting to think that the solar system could have its own little black holes.”

However, this will not be as scary as it seems. “It’s not just vacuum cleaners in space,” says Smithhurst. “They’re more like couch cushions, I would say. They just sit there in your living room, not pulling anything towards them. But if you lose something in the side, it’s gone for good.”

At the center of each galaxy are thought to be supermassive black holes: Sagittarius A*, the example in the Milky Way, the spiral galaxy containing the Sun, was first photographed in May.

“We’re really orbiting a black hole,” Smithhurst said. “The sun revolves around the black hole at the center of the Milky Way. You don’t have to worry about the solar system falling into the black hole at the center.

“But what’s really exciting is that a galaxy of stars has enough of what’s called ‘self-gravity’ to stick together and still orbit around the center, even if the black hole doesn’t exist.”

“That’s why all the gas in the galaxy didn’t just spiral into the black hole. Because there are other things that are more gravitationally attracted to it, including itself,” Smithhurst said.

Dr. Becky Smithhurst is the author of A Brief History of Black Holes: And Why Almost Everything You Know About It Is Wrong.

Leave a Comment