A tiny black hole, named Unicorn, has been discovered by scientists at Ohio University. Located 1,500 light years from Earth, it is the smallest ever observed and the closest to our planet.

Scientists at Ohio University have detected a unicorn. Not a white horse with a goat’s head and split feet, nor the cute and trendy animal with a multicolored mane that one finds in children’s books. No seriously, they discovered a tiny black hole, dubbed the Unicorn, 1,500 light years from Earth.

It is the smallest ever observed and the closest to our planet, according to researchers whose results were published in  Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society .

The fact that it weighs « only » three suns also makes it one of the smallest black holes ever to be found. Indeed, very few black holes so « light » have been observed in the universe, notes the University of Ohio. It could also be the « smallest black hole in the Milky Way so far discovered, » said Tharindu Jayasinghe, a doctoral student at Ohio University and one of the study’s authors.

This cosmic object was baptized « Unicorn », from the name of the constellation in which it is located.

This unicorn is distorting its star

This small black hole was not seen directly by the instruments of astrophysicists: its presence was deduced from the attraction it exerts on a nearby red giant star, inflicting a slight deformation on it.

Indeed, the scientists focused on a star to which it was close, called V 7232 Mon and which seemed to change regularly in luminosity but also… to deform! This meant for the researchers that an object not far from her had an influence on the star. By analyzing the images transmitted by NASA’s TESS telescope, astronomers were able to observe that this deformation could only be due to a black hole.

Unlike many black holes that swallow the surrounding stars, this unicorn is much less greedy, content – for now – to distort its neighbor.

Thanks to observations made near V 7232 Mon, scientists now expect to detect other mini black holes. Each discovery like this gives them a better understanding of the formation and death of stars in our universe.