A supermassive black hole with a mass 20 million times greater than our own Sun was recently spotted shredding a massive star that got too close. The event was directly observed forming and launching a jet of material, marking the very first time such an observation has happened. The star that fell victim to the supermassive black hole had more than twice the mass of our Sun.
The celestial event was recently detailed in a study published in the journal Science. Such is the culmination of around a decade of work, which first started in 2005 when an astronomer spotted a bit of infrared light from a pair of merging galaxies known as Arp 299.
That spurred a series of work that included the detection of radio waves originating from the same place the infrared light was spotted. A NASA telescope soon confirmed that the event was too bright to blame on a supernova, ultimately pointing researchers toward the actual cause: a tidal disruption event, more commonly called a TDE.
The number of TDEs detected is very small, making the Arp 299 discovery particularly exciting. Even better, though, was the direct observation of the supermassive black hole spewing out a jet of material after shredding the star.
Talking about that is study co-author Miguel Perez-Torres, who said, “Never before have we been able to directly observe the formation and evolution of a jet from one of these events.” The observation will help astronomers understand these events, as well as the environments in which galaxies developed.