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Astronomers have accurately measured the distance between Earth and a particular black hole for the first time. And wow, is it close.
The researchers determined that the black hole V404 Cygni is located 7,800 light-years from Earth — or just slightly more than half the distance that was previously assumed.
That puts it relatively nearby to Earth, where the distance to the center of the galaxy is about 26,000 light-years, and the nearest star beyond the sun is a mere 4.2 light-years away.
The more accurate distance measurement will enable scientists to paint a better picture of how black holes evolve, the team says.
"For example, we hope to be able to answer the question as to whether there is a difference between black holes that evolve directly from the collapse of a star without a supernova and black holes that evolve via a supernova and a temporary intermediate star," said study team member Peter Jonker of SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research.
The outermost layers of the star are being siphoned by the black hole. The swirling gas forms a hot plasma disk around the black hole before it disappears, and the process emits a lot of X-rays and radio waves.