Astronomers just spotted a black hole in disguise, and they think there could be millions more like it hiding in the Milky Way.
The sneaky black hole was discovered around a bright spot in our galaxy called VLA J213002.08+120904, according to NASA. Previously, astronomers thought the clump of bright radio waves was just the glow of a distant galaxy. However, new distance measurements show the black hole is only about 7,2000 light-years away — well within the bounds of the Milky Way.
So astronomers took a closer look and found that VLA J213002.08+120904 is emitting a faint amount of X-rays too, which suggests it contains a black hole that's very slowly sucking in the material of a nearby star. That's not typical black hole behavior, and it explains why this one flew under the radar for so long.
"Usually, we find black holes when they are pulling in lots of material," lead author Bailey Tetarenko said in a statement. "Before falling into the black hole this material gets very hot and emits brightly in X-rays. This one is so quiet that it's practically a stealth black hole."
This is the first time a "stealth" black hole and its companion star have been discovered outside dense patches of stars called globular clusters. But the research only examined a very small patch of sky, so there could be millions more of these kinds of black holes in our galaxy.
"Unless we were incredibly lucky to find one source like this in a small patch of the sky, there must be many more of these black hole binaries in our galaxy than we used to think," study co-author Arash Bahramian said in the statement.
We'll need more research to figure out how many more black holes are lurking around us.