Don't freak out, but our galaxy might be surrounded by 2,000 rogue black holes

Illustration for article titled Don't freak out, but our galaxy might be surrounded by 2,000 rogue black holes

Galaxies and their central supermassive black holes grew in tandem, the result of countless collisions and mergers between ancient, smaller galaxies. But galaxies sometimes merged without combining their black holes, ejecting some of these objects out into the depths of open space.


According to a computer simulation by Valery Rashkov and Piero Madau at UC Santa Cruz, a shocking number of these abandoned black holes might be found in the Milky Way's halo, which is a giant outlying region of gas found beyond our galaxy's stars. There's considerable variance in terms of just how many black holes are out there — Rashkov and Madau place the number of black holes between as low as 70 and and as high as 2,000.

These objects are what the researchers refer to as "seed" black holes. These intermediate-sized black holes were once found at the center of early collections of stars and gas — these structures weren't big enough to be considered galaxies in their own right, but they combined as the building blocks for galaxies like the Milky Way. While a good number of these original, relatively small black holes would have merged together to form the current crop of supermassive black holes, but the chaos of these intergalactic mergers could have left some of the black holes stranded in the far regions of space.

While most of these rogue black holes would be pretty much impossible to detect, some of them might have brought entire star clusters and clumps of dark matter along with them. If that's the case, we should be able to spot the light of those clusters in the Milky Way's halo. For more, check out New Scientist and the original paper at arXiv.

In lieu of a story-specific image, enjoy the above artist's conception of the IC 10 X-1 system, with the black hole in the upper left. Credit: Aurore Simonnet/Sonoma State University/NASA.



Or it might not be surrounded by black holes? Or it might be surrounded by Dark Matter, despite the fact that someone just made it up in order to make their math work. Or it might be surrounded by cheese? At this point, each of these is probably about as likely as the others.

All this astophyics is interesting (well, sometimes) and all, but shouldn't we really be focusing on getting the hell of this rock? Who cares what's surrounding our galaxy if we never ge to go see it and find out what it actually is? Who cares if there are potentially habitable planets relatively close to the solar system if we can get there to take advantage of them and protect our own species from the inevitable extinction that befell 99.9% of life forms ever to inhabit the Earth? The clocks ticking. It's been ticking for decades while we've been assing around with probes and and low Earth orbit experiments. There should already be a permanently inhabited base on the moon, and we should be in the process of implementing a permanently inhabited base on Mars. These two projects should yield the data necessary for the creation of fully closed environmental systems that can carry settlers to the nearest star systems with confirmed rocky planets that exist within the "Goldilocks zone". Yes, we could send probes there to confirm habitability beforehand but that would take 50-100 years to get the data back. There are more than enough people willing to risk there lives to skip that step (which we really don't have time for) and just cross our fingers and launch. Some won't make it. But some will. Even if it's only one crew. It's worth it to establish humans on another world.

But instead of that space scientists sit around generating theories about what preceded the moment before the big bang. Interesting, but hardly helpful to humans on a day-to-day basis. How about we do whatever we can to ensure human survival and then worry about the intellectual conundrums once that's achieved? Or are we all still clinging to the increasingly unlikely hope that this planet will still be a habitable place that can sustain billions of people in 100 years?

One condition though: all the climate change deniers and crackpot conspiracy theorists have to be left behind - along with their descendants. We should start making a list...