Telescopes capture supermassive black hole devouring star

Telescopes capture supermassive black hole devouring star

Star spotted being ripped apart by Black Hole

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 worldwide team of astronomers were fortunate enough to detect the event just a short time after the star was ripped apart.

"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.

As some of the thin strands of stellar material fall into the black hole during this spaghettification process, a bright flare of energy is released, which astronomers can detect.

A tidal disruption event occurs when a star gets too close to a supermassive black hole.

It was hard for astronomers to study the light from the star because dust and debris created by the spaghettification obscured it from view.

Stars that wander too close to vast supermassive black holes are shredded ("spaghettified") into thin streams of material, which are in turn devoured, releasing flashes of light.

Edo Berger from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics explained, "In this case the star was torn apart with about half of its mass feeding or accreting into a black hole of one million times the mass of the sun, and the other half was ejected outward".

The researchers found that when a black hole devours a star, it can launch a powerful blast of material outwards, obstructing our view.

The team carried out observations of AT2019qiz, located in a spiral galaxy in the constellation of Eridanus, over a 6-month period as the flare grew in luminosity and then faded away.

Nicholl et al. "An outflow powers the optical rise of the nearby, fast-evolving tidal disruption event AT2019qiz".

Through constant vigilance and some good fortune, astronomers have managed to capture the moment a supermassive black hole in a galaxy 215 million light-years away tore a star apart.

"Because we caught it early, we could actually see the curtain of dust and debris being drawn up as the black hole launched a powerful outflow of material with velocities up to 10,000 km/s", says Kate Alexander, NASA Einstein Fellow at Northwestern University in the US.

Last week a trio of scientists, Roger Penrose of Britain, Reinhard Genzel of Germany and Andrea Ghez of the United States, were awarded the Nobel Physics Prize for their research into black holes, dubbed by the Novel committee "one of the most exotic phenomena in the universe".

But AT2019qiz, the researchers say, is a special case that will continue to aid our efforts to understand these incredible events.

The researchers hope that this observation can help them interpret what's going on in future observations of these tidal disruption events.

AT 2019qiz also acts as a bellwether for learning about how matter behaves in the extreme environment around supermassive black holes, the team said.

"We are learning more and more about the activity and nature of black holes", Dr Tucker said. Astronomers tracked the fading flare for six months.

Stephen Hawking described the flight of a fictional astronaut who, passing within a black hole's event horizon, is "stretched like spaghetti" by the gravitational gradient (difference in strength) from head to toe.

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