Astronomers see a black hole “spaghettify” a star in real time

Astronomers see a black hole “spaghettify” a star in real time
Astronomers see a black hole “spaghettify” a star in real time

The artistic impression that the star is disturbed by a supermassive black hole.

ESO / M. Grain Knife

It’s an amazing event that sounds like science fiction but is just plain science. Astronomers say they were able to capture in unprecedented detail the process of a star being torn into strips and devoured by a black hole.

The powerful phenomenon caught the attention of scientists when telescopes around the world discovered a new beam of light near a known supermassive black hole. Months of follow-up made it clear they were seeing the destruction of a distant sun as it happened.

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“In this case, the star with about half of its mass, which was injected or accumulated in a black hole with a million times the mass of the Sun, was torn apart and the other half ejected outwards,” explained the astronomer Edo Berger of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in a statement.

The violent scene is referred to by astronomers as a tidal disruption event. This happens when a star gets too close to a black hole and is shredded through a hole Process of spaghettification – Basically, the black hole’s gravity is so strong that it expands anything that approaches vertically into long, thin shapes like pieces of spaghetti while swallowing it all.

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The event, which is listed under catalog entry AT2019qiz and is the closest such flicker ever seen just 215 million light years away, was caught early enough for scientists to get a relatively unobstructed view of the cosmic carnage in front of a cloud of star intestines draw a veil over the region.

“We were actually able to see the curtain of dust and debris pull together as the black hole triggered a heavy flow of material at speeds of up to 10,000 km / s (22 million miles per hour),” explained Kate Alexander, a NASA Einstein -Fellowship at Northwestern University. “This is a unique behind-the-scenes look that provided the first opportunity to determine the origin of the opaque material and watch it in real time as it engulfs the black hole.”

An article about the discovery was published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society on Monday.

The event is so close and clear that Berger says it will help scientists learn more about the powerful forces at work, particularly the simultaneous pulling of the shredded star into the black hole and the outward explosion of material from the star .

“So far the nature of these emissions has been hotly debated, but here we see that the two regimes are linked by a single process.”

The hope is that AT2019qiz could be some kind of Rosetta Stone to study and interpret what black holes will have for lunch in the future. One distant day, intergalactic spacemen may even thank them for making this discovery regularly allowing them to move around the universe without turning into space spaghetti.

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