The powerful phenomenon caught the attention of scientists when a new explosion of light near a famous supermassive black hole was spotted by telescopes around the world. Months of follow-up have made it clear that they see the destruction of the distant sun as it happened.
“In this case, the star was torn by about half of its mass feeding – or rising – into a black hole a million times the mass of the Sun, and the other half was thrown out,” said astronomer Edo Berger of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center. astrophysics, in a statement.
The scene of violence is what astronomers call a tidal event, which occurs when a star gets too close to a black hole and shatters through– In essence, the gravity of the black hole is so intense that it stretches everything that approaches vertically, in long, thin shapes like pieces of spaghetti, while absorbing all this.
What is a black hole? Universes of dark, mysterious monsters
See all photos
The event, which takes place in the AT2019qiz catalog and is the closest such eruption ever seen just 215 million light-years away, was captured early enough that scientists were able to get a relatively unprotected view of the space massacre in front of a cloud of stellar guts pulling a veil over the region.
“In fact, we could see the curtain of dust and debris close when the black hole triggered a powerful material leak at speeds of up to 10,000 km / s (22 million miles per hour),” explained Kate Alexander, a NASA collaborator from Einstein in the Northwest. university. “It’s a unique ‘peek behind the curtain’ that gave the first opportunity to determine the origin of the blackout material and track in real time how it absorbs the black hole.”
A report on the discovery was published Monday in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
The event is so close and clear that Berger says it will help scientists learn more about the powerful forces at work, especially the simultaneous pulling of a broken star into a black hole and the external explosion of material from the star.
“So far, the nature of these emissions has been much debated, but here we see that the two regimes are linked through one process.”
The hope is that AT2019qiz could be something of a Rosetta stone for learning and interpreting what black holes have for lunch in the future. One distant day, intergalactic space travelers may even be thankful that this discovery regularly allows them to deform around the universe without turning into space spaghetti.