Scientists Discover a “Bumble-Bee” of a Monster Black Hole

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This Black Hole Is So Massive It’s Theoretically Impossible. Yet There It Is.

If the bumble-bee allusion in the title eludes you, there’s a common myth that a bumble-bee’s wings are simply too small to allow it to fly, yet they fly all of the time. That myth originated in the 1930s when an entomologist from France named August Mangan claimed that bumble-bee flight should be impossible. Of course, bumble-bees do fly, so impossibility is out of the question. And eventually, scientists explained exactly how these behemoths of the bee family are able to achieve liftoff. Now we’ve got a similar conundrum with a black hole. 

Scientists in China found a “monster black hole” in our galaxy. One so big that, in theory, its existence shouldn’t be possible. Yet, there it is. Out there gobbling up everything unlucky enough to cross that event horizon. 

 

How Big Is It?

This particular stellar black hole, LB-1, which formed after the death, collapse, and explosion of a star, is 70 times more massive than our sun. By way of comparison, astrophysicists previously thought that because stars expel so much matter when they explode, the black holes left behind couldn’t be bigger than about 20 times the size of our sun. Apparently their math was off. 

According to Liu Jifeng, head of the team that made the discovery, “Black holes of such mass should not even exist in our galaxy, according to most of the current models of stellar evolution. LB-1 is twice as massive as what we thought possible. Now theorists will have to take up the challenge of explaining its formation.” 

Indeed they will. Some hypotheses are already popping up – such as the idea that LB-1 may have formed from two dying stars instead of only one. Time and research will tell.

How Far Away Is It?

LB-1 is in our galaxy, about 15,000 light-years away, so it’s not going to gobble up anything in our neighborhood anytime soon. Still, black holes are one of the scariest things in the universe, and we know they exist all over our galaxy. The discovery of LB-1 reminds us that there are real things that go bump out in space—and that we don’t have a fraction of a clue about where—or even what—they all are. In fact, even though this discovery will prompt new cosmological models, black holes are one of the hardest phenomena to detect. They don’t emit X-Rays, so they don’t show up on some of the most powerful telescopes we use. This means that scientists have to try to find them by looking for stars that are getting too close. That’s how they found this particular black hole. 

Researchers published their findings in Nature last week. However, the announcement of LB-1’s discovery also came in a Chinese press release from the Academy of Sciences. According to that release, researchers are coming to “a renaissance in our understanding of black hole astrophysics.”

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Brandon Humphreys

Brandon Humphreys

I'm a wizard. I write stuff and it goes from my head into yours - Magic! Apart from that, I am the Senior Editor for Space Porn, a veteran, a rock guitarist, and a teacher.

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