Scientists confused: black hole so big it 'shouldn't even exist' found


Black holes of such mass should not even exist in our Galaxy, according to most of the current models of stellar evolution.

Bregman said scientists are always trying to learn more about the birth and death of stars, and the discovery of one as large as LB-1 could inform that process. It's so massive; it shouldn't exist at all as it challenges the existing models of how stars evolve.

The black hole is still considerably smaller than a supermassive black hole, which can be billions of times the mass of the sun, but scientists are perplexed as to how it attained its unusual mass.

According to the Chinese astronomers who discovered LB-1, it is possible that the very big black hole was not formed from the collapse of one star, but could be a result of two smaller black holes orbiting each other in proximity.

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.

LB-1, located about 15,000 light years from Earth, has a mass that clocks in at 70 times greater than our sun's.

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LB-1 has a mass 70 times that of our sun, but scientists had believed that stellar black holes in our galaxy could not be bigger than 20 times the mass of the sun.

However, most of these bodies "are not engaged in a cosmic banquet", so only about two dozen galactic stellar black holes have been accurately identified and measured, the new study reported. "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".

The technique by which the black hole was recognized was extremely sharp. Using this telescope, they searched for stars that orbit seemingly invisible objects, held on tight by the object's gravity. The mere existence of LB-1 has puzzled scientists, who are not forced to rethink theories about its formation.

"The LIGO/Virgo experiments revealed black holes with masses of several tens of solar masses, much higher than previously known Galactic black holes", the astronomers said. "This remarkable result ... really points towards a renaissance in our understanding of black-hole astrophysics". But this is the first time a black hole of this magnitude has been discovered in the Milky Way. In turn, neutron stars can also merge with black holes to make bigger black holes, or even two black holes can combine into one black hole.

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