Astronomers observe black hole eating a star for the first time

19 June, 2018, 15:44 | Author: Kelly Sanders
  • For the 1st time, astronomers see eruption from black hole as it rips star apart

Supermassive black holes that are millions to billions times the mass of the sun are thought to lurk in the hearts of most, if not all, large galaxies. This finding may help astronomers discover many new instances of black holes destroying stars.

This dramatic event took place in a pair of colliding galaxies, named Arp 299, located some 150 million light-years from Earth.

At the center of a pair of colliding galaxies called Arp 299, a star twice as big as our sun came a bit too close to a huge black hole, about 20 million times bigger than the sun. naturally, it got shredded to pieces and ended up as a powerful blast that was sent across the universe.

When the black hole devoured the star, it shot out a fast group of particles that contained 125 billion times the amount of energy that the sun releases annually.

A NASA computer-simulated image of gas from a star getting swallowed by a black hole and gas ejecting at light-speed into space.

In fact, we have a unique chance to understand what happens near the black hole during these "gaps", said Miguel Perez-Torres (Miguel Perez-Torres), an astrophysicist at the Astrophysical Institute of Andalusia in Granada (Spain).

Astronomers have been tracking this event since January 2005 using the William Herschel Telescope in the Canary Islands where they first noticed a bright burst of infrared (IR) emissions coming from within the Arp 299.


The source of the infrared and radio emissions, dubbed Arp 299-B AT1, was put under surveillance for more than 10 years with the VLBA, the European VLBI Network (EVN), and other radio telescopes.

Over a decade their continued observations with a range of telescopes revealed that the source of the radio emission appeared to be expanding in one direction. A NASA telescope soon confirmed that the event was too bright to blame on a supernova, ultimately pointing researchers toward the actual cause: a tidal disruption event, more commonly called a TDE. These black holes pull matter inside them and form a sort of disc when they are doing it.

The observations included 36 scientists from 26 institutions around the world.

As Perez-Torres from the Spanish National Research Council explains, supermassive black holes spend a great deal of time without devouring anything, so they are not particularly active.

Mattila said the discovery might just be the "tip of the iceberg" for TDEs, with the potential for more discoveries ahead. It could also provide insight about how infrared and radio telescopes can be used to catch new types of events in space that have been previously undetected.

The Long Baseline Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation, operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at IPAC at Caltech.

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