HR 6819 is a binary system with no black hole Revisiting the source with infrared interferometry and optical integral field spectroscopy

A. J. Frost*, J. Bodensteiner, Th Rivinius, D. Baade, A. Merand, F. Selman, M. Abdul-Masih, G. Banyard, E. Bordier, K. Dsilva, C. Hawcroft, L. Mahy, M. Reggiani, T. Shenar, M. Cabezas, P. Hadrava, M. Heida, R. Klement, H. Sana

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Context. Two scenarios have been proposed to match the existing observational constraints of the object HR 6819. The system could consist of a close inner B-type giant plus a black hole (BH) binary with an additional Be companion in a wide orbit. Alternatively, it could be a binary composed of a stripped B star and a Be star in a close orbit. Either scenario makes HR 6819 a cornerstone object as the stellar BH closest to Earth, or as an example of an important transitional, non-equilibrium phase for Be stars with solid evidence for its nature. Aims. We aim to distinguish between the two scenarios for HR 6819. Both models predict two luminous stars but with very different angular separations and orbital motions. Therefore, the presence of bright sources in the 1-100 milliarcsec (mas) regime is a key diagnostic for determining the nature of the HR 6819 system. Methods. We obtained new high-angular resolution data with VLT/MUSE and VLTI/GRAVITY of HR 6819. The MUSE data are sensitive to bright companions at large scales, whilst the interferometric GRAVITY data are sensitive down to separations on mas scales and large magnitude differences. Results. The MUSE observations reveal no bright companion at large separations and the GRAVITY observations indicate the presence of a stellar companion at an angular separation of ∼1.2 mas that moves on the plane of the sky over a timescale compatible with the known spectroscopic 40-day period. Conclusions. We conclude that HR 6819 is a binary system and that no BH is present in the system. The unique nature of HR 6819, and its proximity to Earth make it an ideal system for quantitatively characterising the immediate outcome of binary interaction and probing how Be stars form.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberL3
JournalAstronomy and Astrophysics
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2022
Externally publishedYes


FundersFunder number
Marie Skłodowska-Curie
Horizon 2020 Framework Programme772225, 101024605
European Research Council
European School of Oncology


    • Be
    • Binaries: Close
    • Stars: Emission-line
    • Stars: Individual: HR 6819
    • Stars: Massive
    • Techniques: Imaging spectroscopy
    • Techniques: Interferometric


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