MWC 656 is unlikely to contain a black hole

S. Janssens*, T. Shenar, N. Degenaar, J. Bodensteiner, H. Sana, J. Audenaert, A. J. Frost

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Contact. MWC 656 was reported to be the first known Be star with a black-hole (BH) companion on a 60 d period. The mass of the proposed BH companion is estimated to be between 4 and 7 M. This estimate is based on radial velocity (RV) measurements derived from the Fe IIλ4583 emission line of the Be star disc and from the He IIλ4686 emission line, assumed to be formed in a disc around the putative BH. Aims. Using new high-resolution spectroscopic data, we investigate whether MWC 656 truly contains a BH. Methods. We used the cross-correlation method to calculate the RVs of both the Be star and the He IIλ4686 emission line to derive a new orbital solution. We also used a spectral disentangling method to look for the spectral signature of a companion. Results. We derived an orbital period of 59.028 ± 0.011 d and a mass ratio of q = MHe II/MBe = 0.12 ± 0.03, much lower than the previously reported value of q = 0.41 ± 0.07. By adopting a mass for the Be star of MBe = 7.8 ± 2.0 M, the mass of the companion is 0.94 ± 0.34 M. For the upper limit of MBe = 16 M and q = 0.15, the mass of the companion is 2.4 M. Performing the disentangling on mock spectra shows that the spectral signature of a non-degenerate stellar companion with such a low mass cannot be retrieved using our data. Conclusions. Our measurements do not support the presence of a BH companion in MWC 656. Rather, the derived upper limit on the mass of the companion indicates that it is either a neutron star, a white dwarf, or a hot helium star. Far-UV data will aid in rejecting or confirming a hot helium-star companion.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberL9
JournalAstronomy and Astrophysics
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2023
Externally publishedYes


FundersFunder number
Horizon 2020 Framework Programme772225/MULTIPLES
H2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions670519, 101024605
European Research Council
Fonds Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek11E1721N
Onderzoeksraad, KU LeuvenC16/18/005


    • Be
    • Binaries: spectroscopic
    • Stars: black holes
    • Stars: emission-line
    • Stars: individual: MWC 656


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