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Black hole seen eating star, causing ‘disruption event’ visible in telescopes around the world

a bright light at night
Image by the Independent 

Scientists have seen a unique detonation of light from a star as it was eaten by a black hole.

According to the Independent reports, the unusual “tidal disruption event” was noticeable in telescopes across the world. It appeared like a bright flare of energy, the closest of its kind ever recorded, at just 215 million light-years away.

Such events happen when a star gets too near to a black hole and is pulled in by its extreme gravity.

As the star is sucked in, it undergoes a process called “spaghettification”, where the star is shredded into thin strips, some of which falls into the black hole.

When it does, a flare of energy is unleashed that flies out into the universe, enabling the process to be spotted by distant astronomers.

"The idea of a black hole 'sucking in' a nearby star sounds like science fiction. But this is exactly what happens in a tidal disruption event," said lead author Dr Matt Nicholl, a lecturer and Royal Astronomical Society research fellow at the University of Birmingham. "We were able to investigate in detail what happens when a star is eaten by such a monster."

They were able to watch it through telescopes around the world – the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope and New Technology Telescope, the Las Cumbres Observatory global telescope network, and the Neil Gehrel's Swift Satellite – over a period of six months, watching it as it grew brighter and then faded away.

Such a view is not usually possible because dust and debris can cover up the tidal disruption events, which are already very rare. That has made investigating the nature of the flare that is unleashed very difficult.

"When a black hole devours a star, it can launch a powerful blast of material outwards that obstructs our view," said Samantha Oates, also at the University of Birmingham. "This happens because the energy released as the black hole eats up stellar material propels the star's debris outwards."

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