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    We analyse two binary systems containing giant stars, V723 Mon (‘the Unicorn’) and 2M04123153+6738486 (‘the Giraffe’). Both giants orbit more massive but less luminous companions, previously proposed to be mass-gap black holes. Spectral disentangling reveals luminous companions with star-like spectra in both systems. Joint modelling of the spectra, light curves, and spectral energy distributions robustly constrains the masses, temperatures, and radii of both components: the primaries are luminous, cool giants ($T_{\rm eff,\, giant} = 3800$ and $4000\, \rm K$, $R_{\rm giant}= 22.5$ and $25\, {\rm R}_{\odot }$) with exceptionally low masses ($M_{\rm giant} \approx 0.4\, {\rm M}_{\odot }$) that likely fill their Roche lobes. The secondaries are only slightly warmer subgiants ($T_{\rm eff,\, 2} = 5800$ and $5150\, \rm K$, $R_2= 8.3$ and $9\, {\rm R}_{\odot }$) and thus are consistent with observed UV limits that would rule out main-sequence stars with similar masses ($M_2 \approx 2.8$ and ${\approx}1.8\, {\rm M}_{\odot }$). In the Unicorn, rapid rotation blurs the spectral lines of the subgiant, making it challenging to detect even at wavelengths where it dominates the total light. Both giants have surface abundances indicative of CNO processing and subsequent envelope stripping. The properties of both systems can be reproducedmore »by binary evolution models in which a $1{-}2\, {\rm M}_{\odot }$ primary is stripped by a companion as it ascends the giant branch. The fact that the companions are also evolved implies either that the initial mass ratio was very near unity, or that the companions are temporarily inflated due to rapid accretion. The Unicorn and Giraffe offer a window into into a rarely observed phase of binary evolution preceding the formation of wide-orbit helium white dwarfs, and eventually, compact binaries containing two helium white dwarfs.

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    We report discovery of a bright, nearby ($G = 13.8;\, \, d = 480\, \rm pc$) 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 velocities validated and refined the Gaia solution, and spectroscopy ruled out significant light contributions from another star. Joint modelling of radial velocities and astrometry constrains the companion mass of $M_2 = 9.62\pm 0.18\, \mathrm{M}_{\odot }$. The spectroscopic orbit alone sets a minimum companion mass of $M_2\gt 5\, \mathrm{M}_{\odot }$; if the companion were a $5\, \mathrm{M}_{\odot }$ star, it would be 500 times more luminous than the entire system. These constraints are insensitive to the mass of the luminous star, which appears as a slowly rotating G dwarf ($T_{\rm eff}=5850\, \rm K$, log g = 4.5, $M=0.93\, \mathrm{M}_{\odot }$), with near-solar metallicity ($\rm [Fe/H] = -0.2$) 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 d, is longer than that of any known stellar-mass black hole binary. The system’s modest eccentricity (e = 0.45), high metallicity, and thin-disc Galactic orbit suggestmore »that it was born in the Milky Way disc with at most a weak natal kick. How the system formed is uncertain. Common envelope evolution can only produce the system’s wide orbit under extreme and likely unphysical assumptions. 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.

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