Scientists observed a rare burst of light from a star as it was being eaten by a black hole.
The unusual “tidal disruption event” was visible in telescopes around the world. It appeared as a bright glow of energy, the closest of its kind on record, just 215 million light-years away.
Such events occur when a star gets too close to a black hole and is attracted to its extreme gravity.
When the star is sucked in, it undergoes a process called “spaghettification”, in which the star is broken up into thin strips, some of which fall into the black hole.
When it does, a burst of energy is unleashed that flies into the universe, allowing the process to be detected by distant astronomers.
“The idea of a black hole ̵
They were able to look at it through telescopes around the world – the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope and New Technology Telescope, the Las Cumbres Observatory’s global telescope network and Neil Gehrel’s Swift Satellite – for a while. six months, watching it grow brighter and then fade away.
Such a vision is usually not possible because dust and debris can cover up tidal disruption events, which are already very rare. This made it very difficult to investigate the nature of the glow that was unleashed.
“When a black hole devours a star, it can launch a powerful explosion of material outward that obstructs our view,” said Samantha Oates, also of the University of Birmingham. “This happens because the energy released when the black hole eats stellar material pushes the star’s debris outward.”
Astronomers were able to see this, called AT2019qiz, in more detail than ever because it was detected right after the star was torn apart.
“Several sky surveys have discovered the emission of the new tidal disruption event very quickly after the star was torn apart,” says Thomas Wevers, an ESO member in Santiago, Chile, who was at the Institute of Astronomy. University of Cambridge in the UK when he conducted the work. “We immediately pointed a suite of ground and space telescopes in that direction to see how the light was being produced.”
This allowed them to better see and understand both the glow and the debris that normally envelop it.
For the first time ever, astronomers were able to look at the ultraviolet, optical, X-ray and radio light that came out of the event and see a direct connection between the star’s material and the luminous glow emitted as it is engulfed. from The black hole.
“The observations showed that the star had about the same mass as our Sun and that it lost about half of it to the black hole, which is over a million times more massive,” said Nicholl, who is also a visiting researcher at the University of Edinburgh.
They could also watch as the cloud of debris rose and covered the process – another unprecedented sight.
“Since we spotted it early, we could actually see the curtain of dust and debris rising as the black hole launched a powerful outflow of material with speeds of up to 10,000 km / s,” said Kate Alexander, NASA’s Einstein Fellow. at Northwestern University in the United States. “This unique” peek behind the scenes “provided the first opportunity to pinpoint the origin of the obscuring material and follow in real time how it envelops the black hole.