Black hole swallows star in epic encounter

Black hole swallows star in epic encounter

Supermassive black holes that are millions to billions times the mass of the sun are thought to lurk in the hearts of most, if not all, large galaxies.

"The combination of our infrared and radio observations, coupled with state-of-the art simulations of radio jets and calculations of infrared emission from the dusty regions surrounding a supermassive black hole, left us with one plausible explanation - the infrared and the radio emission came from the disruption of a hapless star being devoured by the supermassive black hole when it passed too close to this cosmic monster".

Astronomers' interest began in January 2005 when they detected brilliant infrared light from a pair of merging galaxies 150 million light-years from Earth - Arp 299.

Scientists have managed to observe a supermassive black hole eating a star for the vert first time.

A colossal black hole swallowed a star whole and belched out a jet of particles as a team of scientists watched in awe.

A TDE appears when a star passes below the Roche limit (distance under which an object is dislocated by the tidal forces of the gravitational body that it orbits) from a black hole and approaches the horizon sufficiently to undergo a deformation and tearing due to tidal forces of the black hole. The star is pulled apart, forming an accretion disc around the equator of the black hole.

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It also launches jets of material outward from the poles of the disk at almost the speed of light.

Seppo Mattila, of the University of Turku in Finland, said that this particular tidal disruption event may only be "the tip of the iceberg" of what is happening in the distant universe. The astronomers had expected to see visible light and X-rays (below the visible spectrum) created by the TDE, but think they only observed infrared and radio waves because of the amount of dust in the galaxy.

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. "Tidal disruption events can provide us with a unique opportunity to advance our understanding of the formation and evolution of jets in the vicinities of these powerful objects".

The scientists said the discovery of the TDE was particularly surprising.

The scientists tracked the event with multiple radio and infrared telescopes from across the world, including the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank Observatory, working as part of the European Very Long Baseline Network (EVN).

They published their findings in the 14 June online issue of the journal Science. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Littleton, Colorado. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore conducts Hubble science operations.

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