From the August 2014 issue

Web Extra: Black holes in the Milky Way

From the behemoth lurking at our galaxy’s core to star-sized objects in the spiral arms, our galaxy holds 19 confirmed black holes.
By | Published: August 25, 2014 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
The supermassive black hole at our galaxy’s heart is just one of 19 known in the Milky Way.
NASA/CSC/MIT/F. K. Bagenoff, et. al
Black holes rank among the most mysterious and exotic objects in the universe. Each of these weird misfits, whose gravitational pull exceeds even light’s capacity to escape, distorts the space-time continuum that surrounds it. They give up their identity only when another object — a star or gas cloud, for example — comes too close. As the black hole’s gravity pulls in material, the gas becomes superheated and emits copious amounts of electromagnetic radiation.

Although astronomers estimate that the Milky Way Galaxy harbors between 100 million and 1 billion black holes, they have confirmed less than two dozen so far. Astronomy presented a census of these neighbors, including where in the galaxy each of them resides, in “Black holes in our backyard.” Researchers hope to expand this list — and their knowledge of these enigmatic objects — in the years ahead.

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