General, Research, Technology

Finding an “impossible” black hole was a mistake

November 27, a group of scientists from the NationalAstronomical Observatory of China (NAOK) announced the discovery of the binary system LB-1 in the Milky Way galaxy. Such a massive black hole turned out to be a satellite of a star in a binary system, that according to Einstein's general theory of relativity and our knowledge of star formation, it should not exist, because its mass exceeds the mass of our Sun by 70 times. However, despite the fact that the authors of the study checked the data for three years, their conclusions most likely turned out to be erroneous. This became known thanks to three different works, in which the results obtained by Chinese astronomers are revised. It turned out that the black hole in the LB-1 system is actually not so massive.

Artistic depiction of a giant black hole in the LB1 binary system, which accretes the gas of a companion star

Amazing coincidence

The central thesis of all three articles oncoincidence were published at about the same time, is that the light, interpreted as coming from LB-1, could come from a completely different source. In an original article, astronomers led by Jifeng Liu of the National Astronomical Observatory of China claimed that there is a black hole in the LB-1 binary system located 15 thousand light-years from Earth, and its mass is 70 times the mass of the Sun. Initially, a group of researchers called the discovery impossible and ended up being right. The fact is that stars potentially capable of forming a black hole, as a rule, end their life cycle by collapsing into a neutron star or black hole, which is a guarantee of the formation of a non-supermassive black hole. And if such an “impossible” black hole existed, it would change our understanding of the formation and astrophysics of these space monsters.

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Why did astronomers make a mistake?

Three separate research teams fromUniversity of California at Berkeley; University of Auckland; New Zealand University; and K.Yu. Leuven in Belgium, shared their findings here, here and here. It turned out that Chinese astronomers misinterpreted the data. According to the results of three independent studies, the LB-1 binary system does indeed contain an invisible object, which is probably a black hole, but its mass is 5-20 solar masses, not 70. The error arose because the Liu team Jifeng used a severely flawed method to measure the “swinging” light that came from the accretion disk of a black hole — a hot, thin, spinning disk formed by a substance that slowly spirals into the center of an object.

Black holes are the most mysterious objects in the universe.

What Liu and his team interpreted asthe light emitted by a black hole is actually the light of the superheated gas of a companion star that absorbs a black hole. After the “absorption line” of the companion star was removed from observations of the “impossible” massive black hole, the light oscillations suddenly stopped, which led scientists to conclude that the mass of the object is not more than 20 solar masses. Although none of the three documents has yet passed an expert assessment, the authors of the studies came to the same conclusion using different methods of data interpretation, which in itself is quite eloquent. Despite the fact that with 100% certainty it is impossible to say that an object in the LB-1 system is a normal black hole, most likely, Chinese astronomers really made a mistake. And this once again proves that Einstein's general relativity best describes our world.