Experts analysing images from NASA’s OSIRIS-Rex space craft were shocked to discover a black hole lurking in the distance. OSIRIS-Rex is currently orbiting the asteroid Bennu, and researchers were initially analysing images of the asteroid.
However, the space scientists were stunned when they spotted a black hole in the background, some 30,000 lightyears away.
Scientists noticed the mysterious object after a glowing pulse appeared in the spacecraft’s X-ray images.
Branden Allen, a Harvard research scientist and student supervisor who first spotted the source in the REXIS data, said: “Our initial checks showed no previously cataloged object in that position in space.”
Researchers have not discovered the black hole is part of a binary, which they have dubbed MAXI J0637-430.
Madeline Lambert, an MIT graduate student who designed the instrument’s command sequences that serendipitously revealed the black hole, said: “Detecting this X-ray burst is a proud moment for the REXIS team.
NASA news: Space agency stunned to find black hole lurking in the background
“It means our instrument is performing as expected and to the level required of NASA science instruments.”
NASA said in a statement: “X-ray blasts, like the one emitted from the newly discovered black hole, can only be observed from space since Earth’s protective atmosphere shields our planet from X-rays.
“These X-ray emissions occur when a black hole pulls in matter from a normal star that is in orbit around it.
“As the matter spirals onto a spinning disk surrounding the black hole, an enormous amount of energy (primarily in the form of X-rays) is released in the process.”
OSIRIS-Rex arrived at the 500 metre monster which is asteroid Bennu in December 2018.
OSIRIS-Rex has now completely mapped Bennu, and has selected four potential sites which it could select samples from which will be returned to Earth in 2023.
The plan next is to whittle these sites down to two, where it will collect samples from a one inch area.
NASA was not prepared for just how rocky Bennu would be, so it is looking for an area where samples are fine enough for the machine to ingest.
By collecting samples, NASA hopes to unlock the secrets of the solar system, as Bennu is a remnant of our galactic neighbourhood’s formation some 4.6 billion years ago.
Bashar Rizk, instrument scientist for OSIRIS-Rex said: “The story of this asteroid is the story of the solar system. When we understand Bennu, we will understand something fundamental about our solar system.”