Scientists Establish New Method for Discovering Black Holes
By: Noemi Elliott
Scientists at the Black Hole Initiative (BHI), in conjunction with Harvard University, established a new technique for discovering black holes in the outer solar system. Led by Dr. Avi Loeb and Amir Siraj, the new development is crucial for the discovery of hypothesized Planet Nine.
The study published by Loeb and Siraj discusses the ability of the Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST) in observing acceleration flares, hinting at the presence of black holes along the edges of the solar system. Their method is based on studying these flares, which result from the disruption of intercepted comets.
Researchers determined that once small bodies approach the vicinity of black holes, they melt as a result of the background accretion of gas.
“Once they melt, the small bodies are subject to tidal disruption by the black hole, followed by accretion from the tidally disrupted body onto the black hole.” Loeb added, "Because black holes are intrinsically dark, the radiation that matter emits on its way to the mouth of the black hole is our only way to illuminate this dark environment.”
The advantage of LSST lies in its wide field of view, covering the sky multiple times in search of flares. As the exact location of Planet Nine is unknown, other telescopes’ location-dependency in pointing at a target made the discovery of Planet Nine improbable until now.
“LSST’s ability to survey the sky twice per week is extremely valuable. In addition, its unprecedented depth will allow for the detection of flares resulting from relatively small impactors, which are more frequent than large ones,” said Siraj.
The hypothesized Planet Nine is estimated to be five to ten times the size of Earth, and if its existence is confirmed, it will be the first planet discovered in two centuries, with the exception of Pluto. On the other hand, if light is not detected from the planet, Planet Nine may be a black hole.
“There has been a great deal of speculation concerning alternative explanations for the anomalous orbits observed in the outer solar system. One of the ideas put forth was the possibility that Planet Nine could be a grapefruit-sized black hole with a mass of five to ten times that of the Earth,” said Siraj.