A Sun-like star orbiting a black hole

Kareem El-Badry, Hans-Walter Rix, Eliot Quataert, Andrew W. Howard, Howard Isaacson, Jim Fuller, Keith Hawkins, Katelyn Breivik, Kaze W. K. Wong, Antonio C. Rodriguez, Charlie Conroy, Sahar Shahaf, Tsevi Mazeh, Frédéric Arenou, Kevin B. Burdge, Dolev Bashi, Simchon Faigler, Daniel R. Weisz, Rhys Seeburger, Silvia Almada Monter, Jennifer Wojno

Submitted on 14 September 2022


We report discovery of a bright, nearby (G=13.8; d=480 pc) Sun-like star orbiting a dark object. We identified the system as a black hole candidate via its astrometric orbital solution from the Gaia mission. Radial velocity monitoring validated and refined the Gaia solution, and spectroscopy ruled out significant light contributions from another star. Joint modeling of radial velocities and astrometry constrains the companion mass to M2=9.8±0.2M. The spectroscopic orbit alone sets a minimum companion mass of M2>5M; if the companion were a 5M star, it would be 500 times more luminous than the entire system. These constraints are insensitive to the assumed mass of the luminous star, which appears as a slowly-rotating G dwarf (Teff=5850 K, logg=4.5, M=0.93M), with near-solar metallicity ([Fe/H] = -0.2) and an unremarkable abundance pattern. We find no plausible astrophysical scenario that can explain the orbit and does not involve a black hole. The orbital period, Porb=185.6 days, is longer than that of any known stellar-mass black hole binary, and the eccentricity is modest, e=0.45. The system's Galactic orbit is typical of thin-disk stars, suggesting that it formed in the Milky Way disk with at most a weak natal kick. Explaining the system's formation with standard binary evolutionary models is challenging: it is difficult for the luminous star to survive a common envelope event under standard assumptions, and difficult for it to end up in a wide orbit afterward. Formation models involving triples or dynamical assembly in an open cluster may be more promising. This is the nearest known black hole by a factor of 3, and its discovery suggests the existence of a sizable population of dormant black holes in binaries. Future Gaia releases will likely facilitate the discovery of dozens more.


Comment: 29 pages, 15 figures, 1-2 black holes. Submitted to MNRAS

Subjects: Astrophysics - Solar and Stellar Astrophysics; Astrophysics - Astrophysics of Galaxies