A group of scientists got first sight of a supermassive black hole devouring a nearby star in a matter of weeks. The team also said that their instruments also caught a jet of matter being spewed by the black hole after its feast.
Scientists published a research paper on the findings in the journal Science Nov. 26.
Sjoert van Velzen, lead author of the paper and researcher at the Johns Hopkins University, explained that such show was never witnessed before. He added that the imagery confirmed that the jets, which had been long theorized, are real.
Researchers explained that the gravitational pull of a supermassive black hole is so strong that nothing can escape from it. Black holes are known for their enormous appetite for matter such as stars, gas, dust, and even light. Their tremendous gravitation is believed to even create a void in the space-time fabric.
Scientists likened the process in which black holes swallow matter with the way the moon’s tidal forces tend to pull Earth’s oceans toward it. The exact mechanism caused the star to be swallowed by the black hole but on a much, much larger scale, study authors explained.
They also said that the tidal pressure exerted by the black hole was so huge that it virtually ripped the star apart into “spaghetti streams” of gas, as van Velzen put it, before engulfing it.
Those streams are caught into the black holes’ gravitation, and they continue to release light as they come into contact with one another despite being pulled closer to the hungry void. But when the light is entrapped in the black hole, for a short time some matter manages to escape and create a laser-like burst.
Most large galaxies such as our own are believed to host a supermassive black hole at their center. Nevertheless, it is extremely unusual for a black hole to entrap a star and throw it in the void. And even more unusual it is for that black hole to emit a jet of matter afterwards.
In fact, months before the event, van Velzen joked that his team would need at least four years to spot such a show and actually witness it. Van Velzen added that the star of the story must have been ‘very, very unlucky’ if we take into account the small size of the black hole as compared with its host galaxy.
As follow-up, the team plans to monitor the supermassive black hole and its jet. They estimate that it may take several months before the jet completely fades out.
Image Source: Wikipedia