Years of Data Appears to Show Black Hole Eating a Star

Rodiano Bonacci
Giugno 16, 2018

Located almost 150 million light years away from Earth, scientists theorise the star swirled around the black hole, emitting intense x-rays and visible light, as a jet of material spat out at a quarter of the speed of light.

There's a supermassive black hole at the heart of most galaxies - many more could be obscured by dust, much like Arp 299, and even Sagittarius A*, the supermassive black hole at the core of the Milky Way.

Specifically, it was a black hole about 20 million times the mass of our sun, and the eruption of cosmic materials was actually the shredded remains of a passing star about twice the size of our sun. If a star is too close to the black hole, its huge gravity pulls it towards it and rips the star.

And it took a long time for the team to get the full data on the TDE as it was all happening. It was back in 2005 when the first hints of the event were detected, and the team spent over a decade analyzing the stellar material as it moved at one-fourth the speed of light.

This is the first time a star has been observed being eaten up by a galactic gobbler. Whatever it was, it didn't emit significant visible light, probably because the surrounding dust absorbed the visible light and re-radiated it as infrared.

Dr Seppo Mattila, from the University of Turku, said: "As time passed, the new object stayed bright at infrared and radio wavelengths, but not in visible light and X-rays".

"Never before have we been able to directly observe the formation and evolution of a jet from one of TDEs", said co-lead author Dr. Miguel Perez-Torres, a researcher at the Astrophysical Institute of Andalusia in Granada, Spain.

Only a handful of these tidal disruption events (TDE) have ever been detected.

What's more, it turned out that this superfast jet ejected by the monster black hole packed 125 billion times more energy than that released by our sun in a whole year, notes Although most galaxies have black holes, they're not necessarily out there actively eating everything up. And they saw an emission moving outwards at high speed, in one direction - just as would be expected from a relativistic jet. Theorists suggest that material pulled from the star forms a rotating disk around the black hole, emitting intense X-rays and visible light.

TDEs are important to astronomy since they provide unique insight into the formation and evolution of jets in the vicinity of massive objects. Such events are likely common in the distant universe and studying them will advance our understanding of galaxies that developed billions of years ago. This new object originally was considered to be a supernova explosion.

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