This artist’s impression shows what it might look like when a star gets too close to a black hole, as the star is compressed by the black hole’s intense gravity. Some of the star’s material is pulled and swirled around the black hole to form the disc that can be seen in this image. On rare occasions, like this one, jets of matter and radiation are shot from the black hole’s poles. (ESO, M.Kornmesser via Reuters)
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Astronomers have detected an act of extreme violence more than halfway through the known universe, in which a black hole shredded a star that was wandering too close to this celestial monstrosity. But this was no ordinary ravenous black hole.
It was one of just four examples — and the first since 2011 — of a black hole observed ripping apart a passing star in a so-called tidal disruption event and then shooting bright jets of high-energy particles in opposite directions. the researchers said. It was the farthest and brightest event ever.
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 more massive than our sun located 8.5 billion light-years from Earth. A light year is the distance light travels in a year, 5.9 trillion miles.
“We think the star was similar to our Sun, perhaps more massive but of the common type,” said astronomer Igor Andreoni of the University of Maryland and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, lead author of one of the studies.
This event was detected in February by the Zwicky Transient Facility astronomy survey using a camera attached to a telescope at the Palomar Observatory in California. The distance was calculated using the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile.
“When a star gets dangerously close to a black hole – don’t worry, this won’t happen to the sun – it is violently torn apart by the gravitational tidal forces of the black hole – similar to the way the moon pulls tides on Earth but with a much greater force,” he said. University of Minnesota astronomer and study co-author Michael Coughlin.
Then, bits of the star are captured in a rapidly rotating disk around the black hole. Finally, the black hole consumes what remains of the doomed star in the disk. In some very rare cases, which we estimate are a hundred times rare, powerful jets of Materials in opposite directions when tidal disturbance occurs.”
The black hole is likely spinning rapidly, Andreoni and Coughlin said, which could help explain how the two powerful jets shoot out into space at nearly the speed of light.
MIT astronomer Dheeraj Pasham, lead author of the other study, said researchers were able to observe the event very early — within a week of the black hole beginning to devour the doomed star.
While researchers detect tidal disturbance events about twice a month, events that produce jets are extremely rare. One of the jets from this black hole appears to be heading toward Earth, making it appear brighter than if it were headed in another direction – an effect called “Doppler enhancement” that is similar to the enhanced sound of a passing police siren.
The supermassive black hole is thought to reside at the center of the galaxy – just like the Milky Way and most galaxies have one of these galaxies at their core. But the tidal disturbance event was so bright that it blocked out the light of the stars in the galaxy.
“At its peak, the source appeared to be brighter than 1,000 trillion suns,” Basham said.
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