A Johns Hopkins University-led group of international astrophysicists have just published a new report in the journal Science about the first ever witnessing of a star being swallowed by a black hole. The scientists monitored the event, describing a star that was about the size of our sun, getting pulled from its course by the massive black hole’s gravitational pull, and then being swallowed whole.
Once the star was disintegrated, it began ejecting matter that formed a disk of debris around the black hole, eventually being discharged into the horizon at the speed of light. Lead researcher Sjoert van Velzen of Johns Hopkins said, “These events are extremely rare. It’s the first time we see everything from the stellar destruction followed by the launch of a conical outflow, also called a jet, and we watched it unfold over several months.”
The video above, from NASA, reveals an artist’s depiction of the event van Velzen describes. Astrophysicist Gemma Anderson, another participant in the study, says that scientists have seen black holes absorb things like giant gas clouds, but that process can take millions of years to complete. “This is happening so quickly that we can observe the evolution of this process on human time scales.”
This marks the first time scientists were able to prove that the jets following a star’s absorption by a black hole are able to escape and travel away from the event. Until now it was only theorized how these jets are launched. “The jets being observed coming from this event are producing more energy than the Sun produces in 10 million years,” said Anderson.