Images reveal supermassive black hole swallowing a star

Cosmic images have provided astronomers to the first ever look at a black hole eating a star.
By Joseph Scalise | Oct 01, 2018
For the first time in history astronomers have taken a direct image of the what happens when a supermassive black hole rips apart a star that gets to close.

To track the event, a team of international scientists used various radio and infrared telescopes to watch a pair of colliding galaxies called Arp 299 smash together some 150 million light-years from Earth. During the event, a black hole 20 million times more massive than the sun shredded a star twice the sun's mass.

That event set off a chain reaction that provided key insight into the galactic process.

Researchers have only detected a few stellar deaths -- known as tidal disruption events (TDEs) -- throughout history, but they believe the processes may be more common that originally thought. This finding adds credence to that idea by revealing the mechanisms behind the process.

"Never before have we been able to directly observe the formation and evolution of a jet from one of these events," said study co-author Miguel Perez-Torres, a researcher at the Astrophysical Institute of Andalusia, according

Scientists first found evidence of the event on January 30, 2005, when astronomers using the William Herschel Telescope in the Canary Islands noted a burst of infrared emission coming from the nucleus of one of the Arp 299 galaxies. Then, on July 17, 2005 the Very Long Baseline Arrayrevealed a new radio emission from the same location.

Continued observations over the next decade showed the source of radio emission stretching out in one direction at roughly one-fourth the speed of light. That then gave scientists evidence of a full jet.

Such a discovery is significant because most galaxies have supermassive black holes at their core. When those formations draw in material, that debris forms a disk around the hole and launches superfast jets of particles outward.

"Much of the time, however, supermassive black holes are not actively devouring anything, so they are in a quiet state," explained Perez-Torres. "Tidal disruption events can provide us with a unique opportunity to advance our understanding of the formation and evolution of jets in the vicinities of these powerful objects."

This study suggests that TDEs may be more common in the distant universe. As a result, studying them could help scientists better understand the environment that galaxies first formed in billions of years ago.

The new findings are published in the journalScience.


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