A research group from the Open University and the University of Southampton is inviting the public’s help to discover some of the most incredible, elusive objects in the universe – black holes. After assessing data from the SuperWASP survey, the UK’s top extrasolar planet detection program, the team wishes to observe changes in starlight that may indicate the existence of these black holes.
The massive stars burst when they age, and what remains of the star after the boom gets condensed into an incredibly small area known as a black hole. Composing roughly the same mass as our sun and condensing into a space just a few miles across, black holes possess a strong gravitational field that not even light can escape. Due to this, black holes can be hard to detect. However, they can often be discovered when material falls into them. This process is known as feeding. Due to their powerful gravitational pull, matter plunges in so rapidly that it heats up and radiates intense X-rays, allowing feeding black holes to be spotted.
Adam McMaster, one of the project’s co-leads, announces, “I can’t wait to see what we find with the Black Hole Hunters project. The black holes we’re looking for should definitely exist, but none have been found yet. Our search should give us the first hints about how many black holes are quietly orbiting stars, eventually helping us to understand the way such systems form.” He adds, “Finding them is a huge task and it’s not something we could do alone, so it’s great that anyone with access to the Internet will be able to get involved no matter how much they know about astronomy.”