‘Impossible’ Black Hole Measurements Dismissed by Two New Studies

An incredibly gigantic black hole that braved standard theories has been doubted after various researchers claimed the data used to calculate the mass of the cosmic object may have been incorrect.

The stellar black hole was first reported as being 70 times more gigantic than the Sun, as per a paper published in the journal Nature last month. Stellar black holes are birthed from the death of stars smaller than the supermassive black holes hosted by the nucleus of active galaxies. Computer models predict that the voids remaining from stellar black holes should have a volume of a maximum of ten solar masses.

Wrong Numbers

Simply put, the mass of black holes should fix into particular ranges. They can either be tiny, between three to ten solar masses, medium-sized, between 100 and 100,000 solar masses or supermassive, measuring 100,000 up to a billion solar masses. Therefore, when the study detailed one that doesn’t fall in any of these ranges, the scientific field was gripped.

The original research, conducted by a big international team of physicists led by the University of Chinese Academy Sciences, details a peculiar binary system called LB-1. Found at least 7,000 light-years away from Earth, the system contains a heavy B-type star and a huge black hole.

The study suggested the black hole’s mass by measuring the impact that the two objects in the system apply to each other. Because the star is incredibly small compared to the black hole, its orbital activity is influenced by its massive mate.

The black hole also somewhat sways as it gravitationally engages with the star. The mass of the black hole can then be roughly predicted by conservation of momentum.

However, two separate​ studies published this week by two different teams of researchers imply that the information used to calculate the mass of the black hole is wrong.

A Factor That Changes Everything

The original study measures the black hole’s sway by registering the shift in its H-alpha emission line in the object’s accretion disk. However, the H-alpha emission line doesn’t appear from inside the black hole at all; therefore, the measurements of its mass are wrong, the new papers stated.

“We showed that the velocity of the H-alpha emission line is not changing with time – it’s constant,” Kareem El-Badry, an astronomy Ph.D. student at the University of Berkeley, California, explained. “If it were coming from the black hole, the velocity would change a bit as the black hole goes around its orbit.”

​The actual issue was the fact that the original researchers did not take into consideration the impacts of stellar absorption. They did not consider the fact that the H-alpha absorption line is Doppler shifting back and forth beneath the emission. This ended up claiming that the H-alpha emission line was Doppler moving back and forth, although it was not.

Absorption lines are the light devoured by a star, and the emission lines describe the light radiated. The two are quintessentially ​connected because the atoms in the star will absorb and radiate electromagnetic energy at a similar frequency.

“As the absorption line shifts back and forth, it makes it look like the emission line is also shifting back and forth, even though it isn’t,” El-Badry said. 

The original evaluation of the H-alpha emission line thought to be radiating from the stellar black hole is actually coming from a larger circumbinary disk of elements that surrounds both the star and the black hole.

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