A black hole in a galaxy not far from The Earth swallowed a star as if it were a large, exploding noodle, and astronomers were given a front-row seat for the action.
The “unfortunate star,” as researchers call it in their paper, spun in the dense core of a galaxy with the ugly name 2MASX J04463790-1013349 about 214 million years ago, when it found itself on a doomed path. He had wandered too close to the central supermassive black hole in the galaxy. And this black hole stretched it like spaghetti and swallowed it in one big gulp. (Scientists literally call this process “spaghetti.”) The light of this act of stellar cannibalism reached Earth in 201
“The idea of a black hole sucking a nearby star sounds like science fiction. But that’s exactly what happens at a high tide event,” said Matt Nickel, an astrophysicist at the University of Birmingham and lead author of the article. said in a statement.
The report was published today (October 12) in the journal Monthly notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
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Spaghetti happens because of how sharp gravity increases as you approach a large black hole. If you drop your legs – first down the gravity of a black hole, at some point the gravity of your legs will be much stronger than the gravity of your head. It will stretch you until your whole skin, skeleton and intestines look like a long string (or really rough noodles). The same thing happens with stars when they are immersed in supermassive black holes, which can be millions of times their mass.
Astronomers have never observed the process of initial stretching itself, but it is the closest they have ever received. The telescopes with a wide view noticed a lightning flash from the system, the signature of a “tidal event”. As the star breaks, some of its entrails find themselves in a disk of swirling matter around the black hole and shine brightly before being swallowed. At the same time, clouds of dust and other materials fly into space, obscuring areas of the black hole from view. Soon after the first lightning, telescopes around the world rotated to observe this.
“Since we caught it early, we could actually see the curtain of dust and debris close when the black hole started a powerful outflow of material at speeds up to [6,200 miles per second] 10,000 kilometers per second]said study co-author Kate Alexander, an astrophysicist at Northwestern University. hole. “
For six months, the researchers observed the material flowing into space and then observed the tidal disturbances fade. Astronomers have also confirmed for the first time the direct connection between the lightning flash and the leaking material.
“The star had about the same mass as our own sun, and … it lost about half of it because of the monstrous black hole, which is over a million times more massive,” Nicole said.
Researchers say the event, which they call AT 2019qiz, could help them unravel the mysteries of more obscure tidal events around other black holes and understand how the extreme gravity of black holes distorts in the space around them.
Originally published in Live Science.