CBBC Newsround: Black hole spotted eating a star

Rodiano Bonacci
Ottobre 15, 2020

Artist's illustration depicting a star (in the foreground) experiencing spaghettification as it's sucked in by a supermassive black hole (in the background) during a "tidal disruption event".

This stellar debris-screen makes it very hard for astronomers to peer through and see what is happening, but last year a TDE happened close to a supermassive black hole 215 million light years from Earth and an global team of astronomers were fortunate enough to detect the event just a short time after the star was ripped apart. When an object approaches a black hole, the tidal forces become so strong that it can rip an object apart.

As it died, the ill-fated star released a blast of light which was seen about 215 million light-years away on Earth. The research is published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

A doomed star caught in the orbit of a supermassive black hole will eventually hit a kind of gravitational sweet spot that turns everything to shit.

"Several sky surveys discovered emission from the new tidal disruption event very quickly after the star was ripped apart", said astronomer Thomas Wevers, who was at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom during the research.

"When an unlucky star wanders too close to a supermassive black hole in the centre of a galaxy, the extreme gravitational pull of the black hole shreds the star into thin streams of material", said Thomas Wevers, author of the study.

In the direction of the constellation Eridanus the River.

Nicholl said that the observations suggested the star involved had roughly the mass as our own sun, but that the black hole was "a monster. which is over a million times more massive".

A similar TDE seen at radio wavelengths. Credit Mattila Perez-Torres et al. Bill Saxton NRAO  AUI  NSF
A similar TDE seen at radio wavelengths. Credit Mattila Perez-Torres et al. Bill Saxton NRAO AUI NSF

These events are not always easily observable as they are often obscured by dust and debris.

The discovery was possible because the tidal disruption event the team studied, AT2019qiz, was found just a short time after the star was ripped apart. "This is a unique "peek behind the curtain" that provided the first opportunity to pinpoint the origin of the obscuring material and follow in real time how it engulfs the black hole". Notably, AT2020qiz is located at the very center of the frame. This picture was created from images in the Digitized Sky Survey 2.

This event, which was captured in optical, X-ray, ultraviolet, and radio spectra, will now provide an excellent case study for the ways in which matter behaves around supermassive black holes. "This is the first case in which we see direct evidence for outflowing gas during the disruption and accretion process that explains both the optical and radio emissions we've seen in the past", said Berger.

As of recently, the idea of these emissions has been vigorously discussed, yet here we see that the two systems are associated through a solitary cycle.

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TDE, called AT2019qiz, was spotted in September 2019 and discovered by astronomer Matt Nicole of the University of Birmingham and his team over the next six months. What's more, a star that got away from all out disturbance shows that a black hole can apportion its feast, and feed off a circling ally for billions of years.

A diagram showing the tidal forces on a planetary body. The elongated stand of material is then sucked in the black hole's event horizon, which emits a sparkling light as it circles the black hole and is then devoured. Along with that, the right side of the body will be pulled to the left, and the left side of the body will be pulled to the right, horizontally compressing the person.

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