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Astronomers See Distant Eruption as Black Hole Destroys Star

17 June 2018, 04:44 | Dale Webster

A NASA computer-simulated image of gas from a star getting swallowed by a black hole and gas ejecting at light-speed into space

A NASA computer-simulated image of gas from a star getting swallowed by a black hole and gas ejecting at light-speed into space

A black hole at the centre of one of the galaxies - which is 20 million times bigger than our sun - was seen gobbling a star twice the size of the sun.

Obviously, it's a good thing that we don't have any black holes too close to our solar system, but occasionally we get a good reminder of what exactly that might look like.

There are many galaxies out there that also have supermassive black holes.

Using radio telescopes and infrared telescopes, an global team of astrophysicists was able to observe a star twice as massive as the Sun passing near one of the supermassive black holes with a mass of 20 million solar masses.

The rapid jet of particles is caused when a supermassive black hole rips apart a star that comes too close to its event horizon.

Almost 150 million light-years away from Earth, two distant galaxies are colliding in a tragic dance that will ignite billions of suns like fireworks.

The first observation of the star being destroyed was made on January 30, 2005, by using the William Herschel Telescope.

However, the radio and infrared emissions continued to wave outward, like an interstellar greeting, six months later. They are called tidal disruption events (TDEs).




"As time passed, the new object stayed bright at infrared and radio wavelengths, but not in visible light and X-rays", said Mattila. There was little visible light, which the researchers argue is down to the surrounding dust absorbing visible light and re-radiating it as infrared light.

Mattila believes that his team's discovery will help astronomers spot even more tidal disruption events and understand more about the environment in which galaxies were born.

Monitoring that space region with an global network of radio telescopes, including the European Interferometry Network (EVN), for more than a decade, allowed scientists to see the flash detected at radio wavelengths expand in one direction at a speed of about 75,000 kilometers per second, a quarter of the speed of light.

TDEs are important to astronomy since they provide unique insight into the formation and evolution of jets in the vicinity of massive objects. These multiple radio antennas separated by thousands of kilometers allow the VLBA to gain an incredible resolving power - the ability to see fine detail - which is required to observe the features of an expanding object from millions of light-years away.

The findings were published in the journal Science on June 14. The initial infrared burst was discovered as part of a project that sought to detect supernova explosions in such colliding pairs of galaxies.

The Long Baseline Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation, operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of global cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency).



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