The closest black holes

R. P. Fender, T. J. Maccarone, I. Heywood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Starting from the assumption that there is a large population (≥108) of stellar-mass isolated black holes (IBH) distributed throughout our Galaxy, we consider the detectable signatures of accretion from the interstellar medium (ISM) that may be associated with such a population. We simulate the nearby (radius 250 pc) part of this population, corresponding to the closest ~35 000 black holes, using current best estimates of the mass distribution of stellar-mass black holes combined with two models for the velocity distribution of stellar-mass IBH which bracket likely possibilities. We distribute this population of objects appropriately within the different phases of the ISM and calculate the Bondi-Hoyle accretion rate, modified by a further dimensionless efficiency parameter λ. Assuming a simple prescription for radiatively inefficient accretion at low Eddington ratios, we calculate the X-ray luminosity of these objects, and similarly estimate the radio luminosity from relations found empirically for black holes accreting at low rates. The latter assumption depends crucially on whether or not the IBH accrete from the ISM in a manner which is axisymmetric enough to produce jets. Comparing the predicted X-ray fluxes with limits from hard X-ray surveys, we conclude that either the Bondi-Hoyle efficiency parameter λ is rather small (=0.01), the velocities of the IBH are rather high, or some combination of both. The predicted radio flux densities correspond to a population of objects which, while below current survey limits, should be detectable with the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). Converting the simulated space velocities into proper motions, we further demonstrate that such IBH could be identified as faint high proper motion radio sources in SKA surveys.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1538-1547
Number of pages10
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 11 2013


  • ISM: Jets and outflows
  • Radio continuum: Stars


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