During a recent question-and-answer online forum hosted by NASA, scientists from the space agency clarified a few important details regarding the nature of black holes. One of the topics they discussed was about the chances of Earth getting devoured by a wandering black hole.
Scientists from NASA answered questions about black holes during a recent Ask Me Anything (AMA) session on Reddit. During the session, Eileen Meyer, a NASA astronomer and an assistant physics professor, explained that like other cosmic objects, black holes can also be flung across space.
According to Meyer, this usually occurs when strong gravitational waves kick a black hole out of its current place. The astronomer noted that the gravitational force generated by galaxies colliding and merging can also jettison a black hole.
"In the case of merging supermassive black holes (something we think happens when two galaxies collide), the merging itself can result in a 'kicked' black hole," she said.
As these black holes drift across space, their chances of moving near stars and even planets increase. One Reddit user then asked NASA if there's a chance a black hole would pass by Earth and devour it.
According to NASA, the chances of this incident happening is not very likely primarily because of the vastness of space.
"Not very likely at all," Varoujan Gorjian, a research astronomer for NASA said in response to the Reddit user's question. "Space is very big and the likelihood of a black hole passing very near us is extremely unlikely, especially since black holes themselves are rare objects."
As NASA explained during the Reddit AMA session, it has not yet detected signs of a black hole near Earth. Usually, the space agency spots black holes by observing various telltale signs such as the light emitted by an accretion disk that forms around these cosmic objects. Sometimes, the locations of black holes are also given away by the unusual movement of stars and clouds of gas around them.
So far, none of these signs have been spotted by NASA near Earth. For now, the only known black hole near the planet is the one sitting at the center of the Milky Way galaxy, which is located about 26,000 light-years from Earth.