300 million light years away from our planet scientists observed how a star becomes supermassive black hole snack, causing jets of material to emerge in the aftermath.
The spectacle is almost unique, with only twenty such instances recorded in time. The uniqueness of this particular event is embedded in the timeliness of the observations. Sjoert van Velzen, Hubble fellow and lead scientist on the study coordinated the international team composed of researchers from Australia, Great Britain, the U.S. and the Netherlands. The team observed the supermassive black hole as it snacked on the star. Soon after, the data was interpreted and the study revealing the process was published in the Science journal.
Supermassive black holes are thought to lie at the center of the majority of massive galaxies. According to the scientific team, the supermassive black hole studied this time is located at the center of a massive galaxy 300 million light years away from Earth. It is approximately one million times larger than our Sun. Nonetheless, the supermassive black hole can swallow a shred a massive star in no time.
The first time scientists observed that a star becomes supermassive black hole snack was back in December 2014. At the time, the scientific team with the Ohio State University tweeted the event immediately, which caught Sjoert van Velzen’s attention.
Gathering up the team, more data stemming from a variety of observation instruments was collected. Both satellites and telescopes collected optical, radio and X-ray data on the supermassive black hole shredding the star to piece and the resulting accretion disk. A stunning puzzle of multi-wavelength data recreated the event piece by piece.
Thanks to the timely approach, the international scientific team could witness stellar destruction and the following months of the accretion disk forming in detail. According to van Velzen, such events are very rare.
Black holes are known to be swaths of space where matter is so densely packed that the gravitational forces at play are halting any matter, light or gas from getting out. This makes them invisible in addition to creating a void in that space area.
For a long time scientists have theorized that if a large amount of gas is forcefully pulled in by a black hole, then the plasma moving rapidly could escape the rim of the black hole. As the scientific team observed how a star becomes supermassive black hole snack and the conical accretion disk formation afterwards, the event confirmed the hypothesis.
Photo Credits: jhu.edu