"Black Hole Messier 87" by Event Horizon Telescope / CC BY 3.0

A Black Hole Is ‘Almost on Our Doorstep’

May 6, 2020

By Marina Koren

In the night sky, far south of the equator, there’s a curious collection of faint constellations embedded in the tapestry of stars. They do not bear the names of myths and legends, because the ancient Greeks couldn’t see them from the Northern Hemisphere. These constellations were charted later, in the mid-18th century, by a French astronomer who sailed south, and he named them in honor of some rather mundane objects of his own time: a telescope, a microscope, a pendulum clock, an easel, various other tools and chisels. “It looked like somebody’s attic!” an American astronomer later remarked.

And just like a cluttered attic, this corner of sky has been hiding something truly remarkable.

Astronomers have discovered a black hole in one of the constellations, the suitably named Telescopium. At just 1,000 light-years away, the black hole is closer to our solar system than any other that astronomers have found to date. A thousand light-years might sound distant to us, but in cosmic proportions, it’s very close.

“On the scale of the Milky Way, it’s in our backyard,” Thomas Rivinius, an astronomer at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile who led the new research, told me. “Almost on our doorstep.”

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