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Researchers spot black hole with record-setting appetite

The longest-lasting tidal disruption event from a distant supermassive black hole has now surpassed a decade in duration. Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/UNH/D.Lin et al, Optical: CFHT, Illustration: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss

A team of researchers has spotted a black hole that has been eating up a star for a record-setting amount of time.

Astronomy Magazine reports that the slow death of the star brought about by the black hole’s appetite was ten times longer than any other star’s known death.  Either the supermassive black hole was devouring an extremely large star or it took its time entirely destroying a smaller star.

The team detected the tidal disruption event using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and Swift satellite as well as ESA’s WMM-Newton.

“We have witnessed a star’s spectacular and prolonged demise,” Dacheng Lin of the University of New Hampshire said in a statement. “Dozens of tidal disruption events have been detected since the 1990s, but none that remained bright for nearly as long as this one.”

The long-feasting black hole is called XJ1500+0154 and it lies at the heart of a galaxy about 1.8 billion light-years away.  The energy released from the black hole as it pulls matter inward reached its highest level of brightness in 2008.

“For most of the time we’ve been looking at this object, it has been growing rapidly,” James Guillochon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said. “This tells us something unusual — like a star twice as heavy as our Sun — is being fed into the black hole.”

XJ1500+0154 reveals to scientists that supermassive black holes are still capable of growing, and further study may reveal more about how black holes develop as they grow in size.

“This event shows that black holes really can grow at extraordinarily high rates,” Stefanie Komossa of QianNan Normal University for Nationalities in Duyun City, China said. “This may help understand how precocious black holes came to be.”

Scientists suspect that the star being consumed will be extinguished in the next few years.

Kathy Fey

Kathy Fey

Staff Writer
Kathy Fey is a freelance writer with a creative writing degree from Mount Holyoke College. She is an active blogger and erstwhile facilitator of science and engineering programs for children.
About Kathy Fey (650 Articles)
Kathy Fey is a freelance writer with a creative writing degree from Mount Holyoke College. She is an active blogger and erstwhile facilitator of science and engineering programs for children.