A citizen science investigation of black hole self-lensing

This simulation of a supermassive black hole shows how it distorts the stellar background and captures light, producing silhouettes of a black hole. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center; background, ESA/Gaia/DPAC

A research team from the Open University and the University of Southampton is asking for the public’s help to find some of the most mysterious and elusive objects in the universe – black holes. By examining data from the SuperWASP survey, the UK’s leading extrasolar planet detection programme, the team hope to detect changes in starlight that could provide evidence for the existence of these black holes.

The most massive stars explode as they age, and what remains of the star after the explosion condenses into an extremely small area – a black hole. Containing roughly the same mass as our sun, and squeezed into a space that’s only a few miles across, black holes have a very strong gravitational field from which nothing—not even light—can escape. he runs away. Because of this, black holes can be difficult to detect, but they can often be found when material falls into them – a process known as feeding. Due to their strong gravitational pull, the matter falls so fast that it heats up and emits strong X-rays, allowing to find the black holes they feed on.

But not all black holes feed. The black holes the team is trying to detect are hidden because nothing is falling in, so there are no telltale X-rays to give them away. Fortunately, their gravity can still hint at where they might be. A black hole’s gravity is strong enough to bend light from stars, acting like a magnifying glass that makes the star’s light appear brighter for a short period of time.

The team is searching through an archive of over 10 years of measurements from the SuperWASP survey, trying to find any stars that have been magnified by black holes. But there are too many stars to see, and that’s not a job computers can do.

Members of the public can join the search by visiting the Black Hole Hunters project site. All you have to do is look at some simple graphs of how the stars’ brightness has changed and tell the team if any look like the kinds of changes they’re looking for.

Adam McMaster, one of the project’s co-leaders, says: “I can’t wait to see what we find with the Black Hole Hunters project. The black holes we’re looking for must exist, but none have been found yet. Our search should give us provide the first hints as to how many black holes are quietly orbiting stars, ultimately helping us understand how such systems form.” He adds, “Finding them is a huge task and it’s not something we can do alone, so it’s great that anyone with internet access will be able to get involved no matter how much they know about astronomy.”

NASA’s visualization summarizes the most popular black hole systems

More information:
Project site: www.zooniverse.org/projects/hu … p-black-hole-hunters

Provided by the Royal Astronomical Society

citation: Black hole hunters: A citizen science search for self-lensing black holes (2022, July 11) Retrieved July 11, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-07-black-hole- hunters-citizen-science. html

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