Black holes are among the most powerful, fascinating and terrifying objects in the universe, gobbling up everything that ventures near. One scientist has run the numbers on what might happen if there were a black hole just beyond our solar system, and it's not pretty.
An Earth-like planet orbiting a sun-like star and located just one parsec from a supermassive black hole might not be such a great place to live, says Lorenzo Iorio, a researcher with the Italian Ministry of Education, University and Research. Iorio's findings will be published in an upcoming issue of The Astrophysical Journal.
"The planet, starting from the current heliocentric distance of the Earth, may even impact its star in about 2 to 3 million years," Iorio writes.
Another way to look at it: If there were a planet and sun like ours within a few light-years of a supermassive black hole like the one at the center of the Milky Way, the odds aren't great that planet would be around long enough for intelligent life to evolve.
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M87 is actually 53 million light-years away. The nearest known black hole — Sag A at the center of the Milky Way — is just under 26,000 light-years away. That's a much more comfortable buffer than the single parsec (3.26 light-years) used in Iorio's calculation, which would put the imagined black hole closer to us than Alpha Centauri, the nearest star beyond our sun.
Iorio emphasizes that his model is too simplistic to be applied to the history of our planet or other systems. It only takes into account the presence of a black hole, star and planet, excluding the many other objects that play a role in the actual dynamics of the universe. He's hopeful that the work might be applicable to other triple systems and perhaps even the hunt for a so-called Planet Nine in our solar system.