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This Newfound Monster Black Hole Is Too Big for Theories to Handle

An artist's depiction of the giant stellar-mass black hole LB1 accreting gas from a nearby blue companion star.
An artist's depiction of the giant stellar-mass black hole LB1 accreting gas from a nearby blue companion star.
(Image: © YU Jingchuan, Beijing Planetarium, 2019)

Scientists recently found a black hole so big that theory strains explain it, a new study reports.

A Chinese-led team discovered a stellar-mass black hole that appears to be 68 times heftier than Earth's sun — nearly three times bigger than the heaviest such objects should be, according to current thinking.

Calculations suggest that the Milky Way galaxy's stellar-mass black holes — which form after the violent deaths of giant stars — should top out at only 25 times the mass of the sun, the researchers said. (Supermassive black holes that lurk at the hearts of galaxies are much bigger, of course, containing millions or billions of solar masses.) 

Video: Giant Black Hole Discovery Defies Theories
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What's more, the huge black hole is also relatively close to Earth in cosmic terms. It sits at 13,800 light-years from our planet — a small fraction of the Milky Way's estimated diameter of 200,000 light-years.

"Black holes of such mass should not even exist in our galaxy, according to most of the current models of stellar evolution," lead author Jifeng Liu, deputy director-general of the National Astronomical Observatories of China at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said in a statement.

"We thought that very massive stars with the chemical composition typical of our galaxy must shed most of their gas in powerful stellar winds, as they approach the end of their life. Therefore, they should not leave behind such a massive remnant," Liu added. "Now, theorists will have to take up the challenge of explaining its formation."

Liu's team discovered the black hole using gravitational observations from China's Large Sky Area Multi-Object Fiber Spectroscopic Telescope (LAMOST).

Most black holes are found via their dramatic activity in X-rays or gamma rays, which are emitted as the behemoths gobble up nearby gas and dust. Liu's team, however, sought out stars that are orbiting inactive black holes, which are apparent only by their gravitational pull. They discovered a star called LB-1, which is eight times the mass of the sun and that appears to orbit a black hole every 79 days, even though the black hole isn't visible. The scientists backed up their observations with data from two other telescopes.

"The discovery of LB-1 fits nicely with another breakthrough in astrophysics," academy representatives added in the same statement. "Recently, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and Virgo gravitational-wave detectors have begun to catch ripples in space-time caused by collisions of black holes in distant galaxies. Intriguingly, the black holes involved in such collisions are also much bigger than what was previously considered typical."

The researchers do acknowledge some caveats with the study, according to Science News. For example, the mass of the black hole depends on its calculated distance. Europe's Gaia space telescope, which precisely measures the movements of a billion stars, has suggested that the distance to this black hole might be only about 7,000 light-years, or roughly half the distance the Chinese team calculated. If that's true, the black hole would be only 10 times the mass of the sun. 

That said, the Chinese-led team noted that, if LB-1 were closer, it would be less luminous and less massive — and its observed temperature cannot be explained with less luminosity. Also, the discrepancy with Gaia's data could be explained if the star were excessively wobbling around the black hole, Science News noted.

The new study was published online Wednesday (Nov. 27) in the journal Nature.

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  • rod
    The report points out that LB-1 is 13,800 light-years distance but Gaia suggest 7,000 light-years distance. The black hole mass shrinks too as reported. Other reports I read indicate the radial velocity method used to detect. Radial velocity method is used in exoplanets studies too, currently 864 confirmed exoplanets via radial velocity method. The Extrasolar Planets Encyclopaedia I prefer Gaia astrometric distance - if accurate.
    Reply
  • UnchangeableName
    We have only 10 years until it collapses our entire galaxy.
    Reply
  • rod
    UnchangeableName said:
    We have only 10 years until it collapses our entire galaxy.

    Okay, you give us *only 10 years* to live until the *end*, it seems :). How much mass is there in the galaxy, how much dark matter halo mass too (assuming dark matter is real)? What is the annual rate of mass consumption that will accomplish this in 10 years?
    Reply
  • RobStow
    With all of the black holes in that mass range resulting from mergers detected by LIGO and Virgo how the heck can anybody be surprised that they found ONE black hole in that range by other means? Shouldn't they instead be surprised that they haven't found more?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_gravitational_wave_observations
    Reply
  • voidpotentialenergy
    Maybe it's just a remnant of a past galactic merger and the star it is eating just unlucky to be in it's location.
    Reply
  • nitinbidani
    Reading this article. Very first thing that comes to my mind is, can it be a merged black hole?

    Like three big black holes collided to form 1 Super Stellar Black hole?
    Reply
  • Some guy
    rod said:
    Okay, you give us *only 10 years* to live until the *end*, it seems :). How much mass is there in the galaxy, how much dark matter halo mass too (assuming dark matter is real)? What is the annual rate of mass consumption that will accomplish this in 10 years?
    So is this true that it will consume our Galaxy in 10 years or are we safe from it?
    Reply
  • rod
    Some guy said:
    So is this true that it will consume our Galaxy in 10 years or are we safe from it?

    FYI, someone else said we had 10 years remaining before the collapse of our galaxy :) This is not in the space.com report. I plan to continue enjoy stargazing using my telescopes :)
    Reply
  • rod
    nitinbidani said:
    Reading this article. Very first thing that comes to my mind is, can it be a merged black hole?

    Like three big black holes collided to form 1 Super Stellar Black hole?

    Perhaps but I feel more modeling is needed and more follow up observations. I previously noted, The report points out that LB-1 is 13,800 light-years distance but Gaia suggest 7,000 light-years distance. Issues like astrometric measurements and distance is critical to the interpretation of the observations including the mass and orbital period determined by the radial velocity method, a method with good success in detecting exoplanets too. In the mean time, I will continue enjoying stargazing this winter.
    Reply
  • Rathgic
    Black Holes are simply a "theoryi" not a fact. You can not find, what does not exist. And in fact Black Holes are absurd, there is no other description.
    Is it not true, that the known universal gravity force is what holds atoms together? That is well know garden variety "gravity" must be present or you don't have any physical objects. It is that simple.

    And the theory has been around long enough, for them to have come up with something that takes it out of the absurd catagory.

    But that's not necessary to them. Just keep saying you've found another one. and another one and another one. No, you just keep seeing the same data from long distances away, from which nothing can be established as being true, except the obvious. So what?. Here on earth, we have a zillion bits of data, that repeat themselves but we do not have a clue as to what they represent.

    And now there is a steady stream of these maybes, whose sole purpose is to try and have research grants renewed ..... that have prove nothing but the data has repeated itself. But simply saying, renew our grant, we have found more instances of the same data?

    But of course, you have not said anything you didn't say before then so why renew the grant? But they don't they say we have found another Black Hole, that is "we have learned something new. No .... you just repeated what we already know, the data exist.

    And showing as real, artist's drawing of nothing we have never seen, but what he chooses to put on the canvas...... is an intentional deception.
    Reply