What happens when a black hole destroys a star

A NASA computer-simulated image of gas from a star getting swallowed by a black hole and gas ejecting at light-speed into space

A NASA computer-simulated image of gas from a star getting swallowed by a black hole and gas ejecting at light-speed into space

Using both radio and infrared telescopes, astronomers watched as a star around twice the mass of the Sun drifted too close to one of the supermassive black holes, which has over 20 million times the mass of the Sun.

Theorists suggested that material pulled from the star forms a rotating disk around the black hole, emitting intense X-rays and visible light, and also launches jets of material outward from the poles of the disk at almost the speed of light.

The phenomenon occurred within a pair of colliding galaxies, called Arp 299 and located about 150 million light-years away from Earth, in the constellation Ursa Major.

Arp 299 is a pair of colliding galaxies, and inside one of them is a black hole that is swallowing a star. Some of it flows from the inner part of the accretion disc via magnetic field lines to the black hole's poles, where radiation and particles are blasted into space at near light-speed, forming the characteristic jets.

When a star comes too close to a black hole, it is ripped apart by the black hole tidal forces.

This enormous black hole had been feasting on a star and was shooting out an incredibly fast particle jet, piercing through the gas and dust disk around it. The material is also being pushed outward from the poles of the disk in the form of a jet that nearly reaches the speed of light.

Miguel Perez-Torres from Astrophysical Institute of Andalusia in Spain said.

Back in 2005, scientists caught a stunning burst of infrared emission emanating from one of the Arp 299 galaxies' nucleus.

Over a decade their continued observations with a range of telescopes revealed that the source of the radio emission appeared to be expanding in one direction.

As Perez-Torres from the Spanish National Research Council explains, supermassive black holes spend a great deal of time without devouring anything, so they are not particularly active. Events such this one are more abundant in the distant universe due to galaxies evolving in earlier stages.

Dr Rob Beswick, from the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics at the University of Manchester's School of Physics and Astronomy, UK, said: "This is a fantastic discovery and an extremely important result in astronomy".

The findings of the study mean that scientists may be able to use infrared and radio wave emissions to better identify black holes in the future.

The study detailing the observation was published June 14 in the journal Science.

"By looking for these events with infrared and radio telescopes, we may be able to discover many more, and learn from them", he added.

The Long Baseline Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation, operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Littleton, Colorado. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

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