As a black hole shredded a star, NASA’s Hubble was watching

Not seeing a black hole can be considered its greatest strength. Across the fabric of space, these silent monsters imbibe every drop of light that falls in their gravitational pulses, populate these rays from the visible universe, and, in the darkness, wait for a helpless star to appear. Then they attack.

Now, scientists have announced to NASA The Hubble Space Telescope has discovered what comes next In such a cosmic nightmare – also known as a tidal disruption event, a black hole feeds on its prey, or “accumulates” a star. Astronomers shared the news Thursday at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

“Normally, these events are hard to notice. You probably get some observations at the beginning of the disturbance when it’s really bright,” says Peter Maksim of the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard and Smithsonian, he said in a statement. “We saw this early enough that we could observe it in very intense black hole accretion stages.”

Caught in the deadly embrace of gravity, this star’s spherical shape was caught forcefully turning into a twisted thread of glowing matter. Before Hubble’s glassy eyes, the star shredded so hard it appeared as a twisting swirl of fairy dust, trapping its predator and leaving behind a flaming tail to light up the empty void of space.

Aptly, this is sometimes referred to as a black hole.spaghettiing“It matters because even the strongest things that have the misfortune of walking close to a gravity hole are blown to flimsy, flimsy pieces.


This sequence of artist’s illustrations shows how a black hole can devour a passing star. 1. An ordinary star passes near a supermassive black hole in the center of the galaxy. 2. The outer gases of the star are drawn into the gravitational field of the black hole. 3. A star gets ripped apart when tidal forces pull it away. 4. The stellar remnant is pulled into a circular ring around the black hole and will eventually fall back into the black hole, emitting a massive amount of high-energy light and radiation.

NASA, ESA, Leah Hostack (STScI)

Meanwhile, the star’s donut-gobbling black hole — called scientific at this point — sucks in the orb’s gases while simultaneously spitting out material as if it were the bones of a hearty chicken dinner. For context, this episode is believed to be our size entire Solar System.

Maxim said, “We’re looking somewhere on the edge of that pie. We’re seeing stellar winds from the black hole sweeping across the surface being projected toward us at 20 million miles per hour,” which translates to 3 percent the speed of light.

Not only is it huge because it is, well, totally amazing — but also because galaxies with quiet or quiet black holes like the ones analyzed by Hubble are expected to devour a star only once every 100,000 years.

“We’re still really racking our brains around the event,” Maxim said.

A simulation of a star being torn to pieces after it approaches a black hole.

DESY, Science Communication Lab

But it doesn’t look like a Hollywood movie

To be clear, Hubble has not literally Capture snapshots of everything that happens in real time. So no, this black hole was nothing like an interstellar leviathan from a scope standpoint.

I mean, after all, this whole situation happened 300 million light-years away from Earth – which also means it happened about 300 million years ago, and yet the light from the event just reached our planet, so we’re seeing it in what we call “the present.” .

However, what Hubble did to capture this scene largely allows scientists to infer what it is Will be It feels like we can somehow watch the details unfold like a movie.

The telescope’s strong ultraviolet sensitivity was able to study the light carried by the shattered star that had traveled back to Earth over thousands of years, and essentially astronomers could track all those light signals to work out how the star twisted, wrinkled and wrinkled as it perished.

You can watch a visualization of the event below, according to the team’s calculations.

“There are still very few tidal events observed in the ultraviolet given the observation time. That’s really unfortunate because there’s a lot of information you can get from the ultraviolet spectra,” Emily Engelthaler of the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard and Smithsonian, he said in a statement. “We’re excited that we can get these details about what the debris is doing. Tidal events can tell us a lot about a black hole.”

The event, officially named AT2022dsb, was captured on March 1, 2022, by a network of ground-based telescopes called the All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae.

That piqued the interest of Hubble astronomers, who immediately moved to try to get some ultraviolet reads on the violent tidal disturbance for as long as possible, to determine as much information as possible about the star’s evolution during its black hole-torn growth. .

“You rip the star apart and then you get this material that makes its way into the black hole. And so you have models where you think you know what’s going on, and then you get what you actually see,” Maxim said. “This is an exciting place for scientists to be: right at the interface of the known and the unknown.”

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