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Meet the Brazilian who helped discover the first sleeping black hole outside the Milky Way

Black holes are regions of space that have such a strong gravitational force that not even light can escape from them. And if even light, the fastest movement in the universe, could not get rid of the uncontrollable hunger of these cosmic beasts, then one could get an idea of ​​the strength of their attraction.

Recently, the world received the first real image of the supermassive black hole in the center of the Milky Way, called Sagittarius A *. Black holes are constantly orbiting as gas flows around them, in the so-called event horizon. However, moving images capable of showing all this turbulence have never been recorded – something scientists believe may one day be possible from this discovery.

No wonder the study of black holes so fascinates researchers of the universe. All the mystery surrounding these phenomena makes the desire to discover more and more of them irresistible and to be able to unlock all the secrets that they hide.

Leonardo Andrade de Almeida is the Brazilian scientist who helped discover the first sleeping black hole outside the Milky Way. Photo: Personal Archives

Professor at the Federal University of Rio Grande (UFRN) and Professor in the Graduate Programs in Physics at UFRN and State University of Rio Grande (UERN), Leonardo Andrade de Almeida, MA and Physician in Astrophysics from the National Research Institute (INPE), is one of thousands Scientists around the world who aspire to it.

And he already has another reason to be proud, in addition to his remarkable curriculum, which has worked in important educational and research institutions in Brazil and abroad, such as Johns Hopkins University and the Telescope Institute of Science in the United States and the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh in the United Kingdom.

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Almeida is the first author of a study published in 2017 in the scientific journal Astronomy and astrophysicswhich was the raw material for the project.” Tarantula’s Giant Binary WatchLed by PhD astrophysicist Hugues Sana, it aims to study in detail 100 binary systems consisting of the most massive stars in the Tarantula Nebula region, in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a neighboring galaxy to the Milky Way.

The discovery of a dormant black hole has collected nearly 20 years of observations

These investigations led to the discovery of VFTS 243, which contains the first “dormant” stellar-mass black hole ever discovered outside our galaxy. In an interview with digital appearanceAlmeida shared how he contributed to this amazing discovery.

“Our paper refers to 51 single-line spectral binaries—systems of two components, but with a signature on the spectral lines, or ‘electromagnetic signals’, of only one of them—that are present in the sample. Of the 100 binary systems,” the researcher explained.

The animation shows the binary system VFTS 243, consisting of a star 25 times heavier than ours and a black hole at least nine times the mass of the Sun.

According to him, it is from these results that post-doctoral fellow in astrophysics Tomer Schnarer and his collaborators have applied the spectral decoherence method, which is used to separate the contributions of the two elements of the binary system. “The goal was then to characterize the invisible component of the 51 systems, and only VFTS 243 did not provide any signature coming from the hidden component.”

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The research used spectroscopic data captured by the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Very Large Telescope (ESO), obtained between October 2008 and March 2014, as well as photometric data from the Gravitational Optical Lens Experiment (OGLE) project collected Over the course of 19 years (between 2001 and 2020).

Get to know the Brazilian who helped discover the first
The Large Magellanic Cloud, one of the closest galaxies to the Milky Way, where VFTS 243 was discovered. Photo: John A Davis –

“The difference with this study is the analysis that is done using this data,” Almeida says. “Using the spectral decoherence technique, it was possible, using the data from the VLT, to come to the conclusion that the second binary component does not in fact contribute to any luminosity of the system.”

Thanks to the combined analysis of optical and spectroscopic data, it was possible to determine that the minimum mass of the invisible object was about nine times the mass of the Sun. “According to the theory of stellar evolution, objects of this mass and without electromagnetic emission should be black holes,” the researcher explains, explaining that the VFTS 243 system, which is 158,200 light years from Earth, has a main star that is 25 times heavier. from our country.

When black holes do not receive material from a companion star or surrounding space, they do not emit electromagnetic radiation – which was observed in VFTS 243. Therefore, they are called “dormant”.

The devaluation of science in Brazil discourages researchers

L’importance de la découverte de ce trou noir dans le Grand Nuage de Magellan ne se limite pas au fait que c’est la première fois qu’un trou noir « endormi » avec une étoile compagne de grande masse en est de s de identifié Milky Way.

Parameters of this system show that the collapse of the progenitor star into a black hole generated little or no ejectors. This question has important implications for stellar astrophysics, as well as for rates of generation and detection of gravitational waves, Almeida explains. “This is because this system is beginning to impose critical observational constraints on the types and distributions of supernovae, and on the survival of binary black hole systems.”

In other words, we have many reasons to be proud of another Brazilian who is making a difference and taking our country’s name to be recognized in the scientific world. However, it was not easy to achieve this peak.

“It is becoming more and more difficult to produce the latest science in Brazil due to successive budget cuts. Year after year, we are losing competitiveness and our scientists to other countries and the private sector,” Almeida laments.

Added to this is the decline in the number of master’s, doctoral, and post-doctoral scholarships, which has already accumulated a devaluation of nearly 70% in a decade. “Without oxygenating this new generation of scientists in our graduate programs, and without funding for major projects, we are on a path of no return. The only solution to this sad reality is state policy that truly values ​​science and scientists.”

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