Earlier this year, astronomers stumbled upon a fascinating finding: Thousands of black holes likely exist near the center of our galaxy.
The X-ray images that enabled this discovery weren’t from some state-of-the-art new telescope. Nor were they even recently taken—some of the data was collected nearly 20 years ago.
No, the researchers discovered the black holes by digging through old, long-archived data.
Discoveries like this will only become more common, as the era of “big data” changes how science is done. Astronomers are gathering an exponentially greater amount of data every day—so much that it will take years to uncover all the hidden signals buried in the archives.
The evolution of astronomy
Sixty years ago, the typical astronomer worked largely alone or in a small team. They likely had access to a respectably large ground-based optical telescope at their home institution.