Black holes are one of the strangest objects in the universe we have encountered so far. They are practically invisible from our sight. Until now, that is. Astronomer have been using X-ray or gamma ray telescopes to locate the black holes—but a recent study suggests that we could achieve the same thing with nothing more than a normal, optical 8-inch telescope. It could practically even put these observations within the monarchy of backyard astronomy. So how is this eve possible?
A new paper issued just yesterday in Nature by scientists from Kyoto University, space agency JAXA, Hiroshima University, the Rochester Institute of Technology, and RIKEN laboratory uses a neighboring black hole, V404 Cygni (and its current trembling outburst) to clarify how it’s done. One of the most common type of black hole is called an X-ray binary, produced by a dead or blasted star drawing in everything around it. This ultimately results in massive amounts of X-ray radiation, but researchers have now found that it also kicks out some low-level light too:
Here’s the recording of V404 that displays precisely what that outburst looks like, through the eye of a telescope:
Above footage was captured by Rochester Institute of Technology’s observatory—which is several magnitudes more powerful than what an amateur stargazer would have on hand. But scientists note in their research paper that all that would be required for these observations is only a telescope of 20 centimeters or more. That’s almost 8-inches, well within grasp of the backyard astronomer.
Not every black hole is an appropriate candidate for Earth-based observation. Chief author on the paper Mariko Kimura told Gizmodo that the black hole binary would need to be close enough to Earth that it could be observed by our telescope.
Beyond that however, there are some other difficulties that may make several of these hard to observe.