Scientists decade watch how a supermassive black hole devouring a star

19 June, 2018, 15:41 | Author: Darnell Taylor
  • Credit Sophie Dagnello NRAO  AUI  NSF NASA STScI

It seems that a team of researchers have finally managed to follow and watch the formation and expansion of the quick jet of material that gets thrown out as the gravity of a supermassive black hole catches a star and destroys it by tearing it apart.

This supermassive black hole is reportedly 20 million times bigger compared to the sun, while the star is over twice as large as the sun. The black hole destroyed a star nearly twice the size of the Sun when it made a close approach.

Most galaxies have supermassive black holes, "which can pull matter into them and form a huge disc around their outsides as they do", says The Independent. Therefore, tidal disruption events, such as the one recently recorded, offer a unique opportunity to study the vicinity of these powerful objects. Astronomers with the William Herschel Telescope in the Canary Islands noted a bright burst of infrared emission from the Arp 299 area. By July 2005, a new source of radio emission emerged from the location of Arp 299.

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.

Tidal disruption events are rare and occur about once every 10,000 years in a typical galaxy because its central black hole is not actively consuming any material and consequently, not give off any light. If a star passes too close to such a monstrous black hole, its powerful gravitational pull will tear it apart in a so-called tidal disruption event.

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In the end, one half of the mass of the star is absorbed by the black hole, and the other is thrown away.

Supermassive black holes aren't your ordinary stellar-variety black holes whose mass is just a couple of times that of our sun. As there are many supernova explosions seen in the galaxy, researchers have first thought that they are looking at the same phenomena again.

The study detailing the observation was published June 14 in the journal Science. "It all started when my colleague Professor Peter Meikle came into my office in 2005 and said "something odd is happening in Arp299".

"Because of the dust that absorbed any visible light, this particular tidal disruption event may be just the tip of the iceberg of what until now has been a hidden population", Seppo Mattila, of the University of Turku in Finland, told the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in a statement. Caltech manages JPL for NASA. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore conducts Hubble science operations.


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