A black hole had a stellar spaghetti feast, which astronomers witnessed from 215 million light-years away in a spiral galaxy in the Eridanus constellation.
Using telescopes at the European Southern Observatory in Chile, astronomers witnessed the light of a star being consumed and ripped apart by a supermassive black hole. Although it may appear to be a long distance away, astronomers have witnessed the closest flaring death throes of a star to yet.
And it appears like the astronomers observed the star’s “spaghettificaton.”
“When an unfortunate star wanders too close to a supermassive black hole in the heart of a galaxy, the black hole’s tremendous gravitational pull shreds the star into thin streams of material,” said Thomas Wevers, study coauthor and ESO fellow in Santiago, Chile, in a release. Wevers worked on this project at the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy.
When these thin strands of the star’s material fall into the black hole, they emit a brilliant intense flare that astronomers can detect.
Spaghettification occurrences are far more difficult to see and study. However, the researchers have the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope and Fresh Technology Telescope pointed in the proper direction after spotting a new flare of light close to a supermassive black hole last year.
“A black hole’sucking in’ a neighbouring star seems like science fiction. However, this is exactly what occurs during a tidal disruption event “In a statement, Matt Nicholl, the primary study author and a lecturer and Royal Astronomical Society research fellow at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, said.
Even though the star’s light was extremely intense, scientists found it difficult to analyse since the event’s dust and debris obscured it from view. The energy generated by the black hole during its dinner really pushed out the star’s debris in the form of a curtain.
“We discovered that when a black hole devours a star, it can shoot a tremendous blast of material outwards that obstructs our vision,” said Samantha Oates, coauthor of the paper and a researcher at the University of Birmingham, in a statement.
Astronomers began studying the event shortly after the star was ripped apart and continued to analyse it in detail for six months using various telescopes and devices as the light from the star expanded and finally faded.
“Because we caught it early, we could actually see the curtain of dust and debris being drawn up as the black hole launched a powerful outflow of material with velocities up to 10,000 km/s,” said Kate Alexander, study coauthor and NASA Einstein fellow at Northwestern University, in a statement. “This unique ‘peek behind the curtain’ provided the first opportunity to pinpoint the origin of the obscuring material and follow in real time how it engulfs the black hole.”
Observations were made in a variety of light wavelengths, including optical, X-ray, ultraviolet, and radio radiation. These various wavelengths indicated a direct connection between the intense flare seen as the star was eaten by the black hole and the material flowing out of the star.
“The observations showed that the star had roughly the same mass as our own Sun, and that it lost about half of that to the monster black hole, which is over a million times more massive,” Nicholl said.
The research advances astronomers’ understanding of black holes, and this particular event, designated AT2019qiz, could be used as a “Rosetta stone” for future events.