Scientists Capture A Black Hole Eating A Star For The First Time

Scientists using massive, highly sophisticated telescopes have for the first time seen the effects of what happens if a giant star strays a little bit too close to a supermassive black hole.

Excitingly, it's the very first time that the effects of a star being quite literally eaten by a black hole. On the one hand, it's fascinating, on the other hand, it's bloody terrifying.

Stop me if this is too technical, but it seems that what happens is a giant, rapidly expanding jet of stuff is chucked out into space as the star is torn apart, particle by particle, by the force of the black hole's gravity.

Credit: Sophie Dagnello NRAO/AUI/NSF; NASA, STScI
Credit: Sophie Dagnello NRAO/AUI/NSF; NASA, STScI

The telescopes are trained on a couple of galaxies far, far away (sorry) called Arp 299. By 'far, far away', I mean 150 million light-years from Planet Earth.

Arp 299 consists of two galaxies that are colliding with each other, which is itself a pretty weird phenomenon to be able to clap eyes on. However, while they were watching this, they spotted that a sun had ventured perilously close to a giant black hole in the centre of the fray.

By 'giant', I mean the thing is 20 million times the size of our sun. Hell, the star that it ate is twice as big as our sun. As it was consumed, it shot the giant plume of matter and light out into the universe.

Now, it's been suspected that this exact thing happens for a while now, but in actually seeing it in action, scientists can be verified in their beliefs.


Miguel Perez-Torres, who works at the Astrophysical Institute of Andalucía, in Granada, said: "Never before have we been able to directly observe the formation and evolution of a jet from one of these events."

There are actually quite a few black holes that scientists are keeping an eye on across the universe, but it's surprisingly rare to actually see any activity out of them. This is what makes these observations so important.

Perez-Torres continued: "Much of the time, however, supermassive black holes are not actively devouring anything, so they are in a quiet state.

"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,"

So, there you go. Like all great discoveries, there was an element of chance to their findings, too.

They were initially supposed to be looking for supernovas - the last death throes of a star - and they thought they had found one. They soon realised, as the situation developed and the explosion expanded, that they had found much more than that.

Featured Image Credit: Pixabay

Tom Wood

Tom Wood is a freelance journalist and LADbible contributor. He graduated from University of London with a BA in Philosophy before studying for a Masters in Journalism at the University of Salford. He has previously written for the M.E.N Group as well as working for several top professional sports clubs. Contact him on [email protected]

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