NASA planet-hunter mission watches black hole devour a star

Brittany A. Roston - Sep 26, 2019, 3:55pm CDT
NASA planet-hunter mission watches black hole devour a star

NASA has announced that its Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission spotted a black hole tearing apart a star for the first time. This process is called a tidal disruption event and it occurs when a star moves too close to a black hole. A study led by Carnegie Fellow Thomas Holoien was recently published detailing the observation alongside a simulation showing off the celestial event.

The newly detailed tidal disruption event has been named ASASSN-19bt; it was first observed by the TESS planet-hunting mission on January 21, though it took several weeks for the data to be crunched. A few days later on January 29, the same event was detected by the ASAS-SN global network of robotic telescopes.

According to NASA, the detection by the ASAS-SN was followed by observation with the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton, Swift, and the Las Cumbres Observatory network of ground-based telescopes. The first batch of TESS data on the tidal disruption was available to scientists on March 13, according to NASA.

The astronomers who researched this event estimate the black hole that devoured the star has about six million times the mass of our Sun…in fact, the star that was destroyed during this tidal event was possibly around the size of the Sun. NASA describes these tidal events as ‘incredibly rare,’ meaning one only takes place around once every 10,000 to 100,000 years in galaxies the size of the Milky Way.

TESS project scientist Padi Boyd explained:

For TESS to observe ASASSN-19bt so early in its tenure, and in the continuous viewing zone where we could watch it for so long, is really quite extraordinary. Future collaborations with observatories around the world and in orbit will help us learn even more about the different outbursts that light up the cosmos.

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