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Whether stellar or supermassive, black holes behave in much the same way



Astronomers recently caught a supermassive black hole swallowing a star. It ignited in exactly the same way as his younger cousins ​​when these black holes ate breakfast. It just took longer and was a million times brighter.

Astronomers have been observing the eating habits of small black holes with stellar mass for decades. These black holes often orbit other stars and sometimes feed on them. When the material approaches the black hole, it compresses to form a thin accretion disk. The heat from this accretion generates a “soft” form of radiation, usually ultraviolet. But as the material on the disk thins, a hot corona takes over, emitting “solid”

; radiation in the form of X-rays.

The whole process was over and done in a matter of days.

Supermassive black holes also feed on the surrounding material, but astronomers have long thought it would be impossible to observe this process in real time, as it would take millions of years to burn and move to Mecca. “, Then the” solid “phase.

But then the TDE AT2018fyk happened. This is the name given to a special eruption seen by the All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae (ASASSN) in September 2018. It was a tidal eruption that occurs when a giant black hole rips out an entire star to shatter it before he ate her alive.

A team of astronomers led by Dheeraj “DJ” Pasham, a researcher at the MIT Institute of Astrophysics and Space Research, continued with additional observations of the event.

“In the event of a tidal situation, everything is abrupt,” says Pasham. “Suddenly they throw a piece of gas at you and the black hole suddenly wakes up and it’s like ‘wow, there’s so much food – let’s just eat, eat, eat until it’s gone.’ So, he experiences everything in a short period of time. This allows us to explore all these different stages of growth that people have known in black holes with stellar mass. “

For two years, astronomers were able to witness the whole messy story: an initial flash, the formation of an accretion disk with “soft” UV emission, the transition to “hard” X-ray emission, and the final disappearance.

“We demonstrated that if you saw a black hole, you saw them all in a way,” Pasham said. “When you throw a ball of gasoline at them, they seem to do more or less the same thing. They are the same beast in terms of growth. “

“People knew that this cycle happened in black holes with a stellar mass, which are only about 10 solar masses. Now we see this in something 5 million times bigger, “said Pasham.

As well as being really great, these observations are only the second time astronomers have caught the formation of a corona around a black hole.

“The crown is a very mysterious entity, and in the case of supermassive black holes, people have studied established crowns, but they don’t know when or how they formed,” says Pasham. “We have demonstrated that you can use tidal events to capture crown formation. I am happy to use these events in the future to find out exactly what the crown is. “


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