This artist’s impression shows what it might look like when a star gets too close to a black hole, where the black hole is compressed by intense gravity. Some of the star’s material is pulled in and swirled around the black hole that forms the disk visible in this image. In rare cases like this, jets of matter and radiation are ejected from the poles of the black hole. (ESO, via Reuters M.Kornmesser)
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WASHINGTON — Astronomers have detected extremely violent motion in more than half of the known universe, as a black hole tore apart a star orbiting too close to this celestial savage. But this was no ordinary example of a predatory black hole.
This was one of only four instances of a black hole observed in the act of smashing a star in an event called a tidal disruption event, then shooting bright jets of high-energy particles in opposite directions, and the first since 2011. space, the researchers said. And it was both the furthest and the brightest event of this kind ever recorded.
Astronomers described the event in studies published Wednesday in the journals Nature and Nature Astronomy.
The culprit appears to be a supermassive black hole believed to be hundreds of millions of times the mass of our sun, located about 8.5 billion light-years from Earth. A light-year is the distance light travels in one year, 5.9 trillion miles.
“We think the star is similar to our sun, perhaps more massive but of a common species,” said astronomer Igor Andreoni of the University of Maryland and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, lead author of one of the studies.
The event was detected in February through the Zwicky Transient Facility astronomical survey using a camera attached to a telescope at Palomar Observatory in California. The distance was calculated using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile.
“When a star comes dangerously close to a black hole – don’t worry, it won’t happen to the Sun – the black hole’s gravity is violently ripped apart by tidal forces – similar to how the Moon pulls the tides on Earth, but with greater force,” he said. University of Minnesota astronomer and study co-author Michael Coughlin.
“The pieces of the star are then caught in a rapidly spinning disk orbiting the black hole. Finally, the black hole consumes what’s left of the cursed star in the disk. In some very rare cases, which we estimate to be 100 times rarer, strong material in opposite directions occurs when the tidal interruption event occurs. jets are launched,” Coughlin added.
Andreoni and Coughlin said the black hole is likely spinning rapidly, which could help explain how two powerful jets were launched into space at nearly the speed of light.
The other study’s lead author, Massachusetts Institute of Technology astronomer Dheeraj Pasham, said that researchers were able to observe the event very early on, within a week of the black hole starting to consume the doomed star.
While researchers detect tidal disruption events about twice a month, jet generators are extremely rare. One of the jets emanating from this black hole appears to be pointing at Earth, which makes it look like it’s going in another direction – an effect called “Doppler amplification” that resembles the enhanced sound of a passing police siren.
The supermassive black hole is believed to be located at the center of a galaxy – very similar to the Milky Way, and most galaxies have one of them at the center. But the tidal disruption event was so bright that it blocked the light of the galaxy’s stars.
“At its peak, the source looked brighter than 1,000 trillion suns,” Pasham said. Said.
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