A distant black hole is caught in the act of annihilating a star

A distant black hole is caught in the act of annihilating a star

This artist’s impression illustrates what it might look like when a star gets too close to a black hole, where the star is squeezed by the black hole’s intense gravitational pull. Some of the star’s material is captured and swirls around the black hole forming the disk that can be seen in this image. In rare cases, such as this one, jets of matter and radiation shoot out from the poles of the black hole. (ESO, M.Kornmesser via Reuters)

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WASHINGTON – Astronomers have detected an act of extreme violence over half of the known universe as a black hole rips apart a star that got too close to this celestial wilderness. But this was no ordinary example of a voracious black hole.

It was one of four examples, and the first since 2011, of a black hole observed in the act of shredding a passing star in what’s called a tidal disruption event and then spewing out light beams of particles of high energy in opposite directions into space, the researchers said. And it was the most distant and brightest such event on record.

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 away from Earth. A light year is the distance light travels in one year, 5.9 trillion miles.

“We think the star was similar to our sun, maybe more massive but of a common type,” said astronomer Igor Andreoni of the University of Maryland and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, lead author of a of studies

The event was detected in February by the Zwicky Transient Facility astronomical survey using a camera attached to a telescope at California’s Palomar Observatory. 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, that won’t happen to the sun, it’s violently torn apart by the black hole’s tidal gravitational forces, similar to how the moon pulls the tides on Earth , but with more force,” he said. Michael Coughlin, an astronomer and co-author of the study at the University of Minnesota.

“The pieces of the star are then captured in a rapidly spinning disk around the black hole. Eventually, the black hole consumes what is left of the doomed star in the disk. In some very rare cases, which we estimate are 100 times rarer, powerful jets of material are launched in opposite directions when the tidal disruption occurs,” Coughlin added.

Andreoni and Coughlin said the black hole was likely spinning rapidly, which could help explain how the two powerful jets were blasted 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, a week after the black hole began consuming the doomed star.

While researchers detect tidal disruption events about twice a month, those that produce jets are extremely rare. One of the jets emanating from this black hole appears to be pointing toward Earth, making it appear brighter than if it were heading in another direction, an effect called “Doppler pulse” that is similar to the enhanced sound of a siren. passing police

The supermassive black hole is thought to reside at the center of a galaxy, just like the Milky Way and most galaxies have one at their core. But the tidal disruption event was so bright that it dimmed the galaxy’s starlight.

“At its peak, the source looked brighter than 1,000 trillion suns,” Pasham said.

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