1 Million Habitable Planets Could (Theoretically) Orbit a Black Hole. Here's How

Space.com | 6/11/2018 | Staff
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A black hole could have 1 million planets orbiting near it that are potentially capable of supporting life as we know it, an astrophysicist suggests.

Since there is life virtually everywhere liquid water exists on Earth, astronomers often judge a world as potentially habitable if it orbits within a zone where liquid water could survive on its surface. Our sun's "habitable zone" hosts just one planet (Earth), but the story could be different for other stars. For example, the TRAPPIST-1 system has three Earth-size planets within its habitable zone.

Extremes - Boundaries - Box - Raymond - Space

"I think we can learn from the extremes ... they are basically the boundaries of the box in which we are searching," Raymond told Space.com. "This system is one extreme — the most packed imaginable. It's a fun blend of imagination and science."

Black holes are extremely compact. A black hole with the mass of the sun would be about only 3.7 miles (6 kilometers) wide. In comparison, Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole thought to lurk at the heart of the Milky Way, has a mass of about 4 million suns and a diameter of about 14.7 million miles (23.6 million km), or a little more than 40 percent the size of Mercury's orbit around the sun.

Diagram - Sun-black - Hole - System

Diagram of a hypothetical sun-black hole solar system.

What if the sun had a black hole companion?

Planets - Distance - Sun - Pull - Sun

Still, assuming these planets kept the same distance from the sun as they do now, the gravitational pull of the sun and its black hole partner would lead these worlds to complete their orbits a bit more quickly, with Earth's year decreasing from 365 days to 258 days, he said.

In the above scenario, the sun and the black hole would complete an orbit with one another every 2.9 days. This means the amount of energy that Earth would receive from the sun...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Space.com
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