ESO telescopes record the final moments of a star being consumed by a black hole

Shane McGlaun - Oct 13, 2020, 7:33am CDT
ESO telescopes record the final moments of a star being consumed by a black hole

Telescopes at the European Southern Observatory and other organizations worldwide have spied a rare blast of light originating from a star as it was being ripped apart by a supermassive black hole. The phenomenon is known as a tidal disruption event, and the event was the closest flare ever recorded at 215 million light-years from Earth.

Scientists have been able to study the data in unprecedented detail. In these tidal disruption events, a star experiences something known as spaghettification as it’s sucked into the black hole. Such events are rare and aren’t easy to study. This event was observed by the ESO Very Large Telescope and its New Technology Telescope.

Scientists say that a new flash of light occurred last year close to a supermassive black hole, and researchers investigated in detail to see what happens when a star is devoured. When a star gets too close to a supermassive black hole, the black hole’s extreme gravity rips the star into thin spaghetti-like streams of material. As those thin strands of material fall into the black hole, a bright flare of energy is released that can be detected by astronomers.

While the burst of light is powerful and extremely bright, astronomers have had trouble investigating the phenomenon in the past because it’s often obscured by dust and debris. Researchers found that when a black hole consumes a star, it often launches a powerful blast of material outwards, obstructing the view from Earth. That happens because energy released as a black hole consumes a star propels star debris outwards.

In this case, observation was possible because the tidal disruption event, known as AT2019qlz, was discovered only a short time after the star was ripped apart. Researchers say that this event was discovered early enough to see a curtain of dust and debris being drawn up as the blackhole launched an outflow of material at a velocity of up to 10,000 KM/S. AT2019qlz is located in a spiral galaxy in the constellation of Eridanus.

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