Astronomers Spot Supermassive Black hole Destroying a Star

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An international team of astronomers caught a supermassive black hole in the process of tearing through a star, ripping it apart, and then swallowing it. This research is proof of a supermassive black hole’s power. A black hole, at the core of one of the galaxies, which is 20 million times more massive than the Sun shredded a star more than twice the Sun’s mass, setting off a chain of events that revealed important details of the violent encounter.

The event was tracked with radio and infrared telescopes, including the National Science Foundation’s Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA), in a pair of colliding galaxies called Arp 299, nearly 150 million light-years from Earth. Astronomers with the William Herschel Telescope in the Canary Islands noted a bright burst of infrared emission from the Arp 299 area. A few months later, the VLBA spotted a new source of emissions from that same location.

Black holes make mass so concentrated that not even light can escape it. The team reported to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory that most galaxies have their own supermassive black holes. Those masses contain up to a billion times more mass than the Sun itself.  Supermassive black holes are exceptionally strong in that when they draw in materials, those materials form a disk around the black hole causing jets to launch out. This is the phenomenon seen in radio galaxies and quasars.

Scientist, Seppo Mattila of the University of Turku in Finland said, “As time passed, the new object stayed bright at infrared and radio wavelengths, but not in visible light and X-rays,” and further added, “The most likely explanation is that thick interstellar gas and dust near the galaxy’s center absorbed the X-rays and visible light, then re-radiated it as infrared.”

This particular tidal disruption event may be just the tip of the iceberg of what until now has been a hidden population. By looking for these events with infrared and radio telescopes, researchers may be able to discover many more, and learn from them.

This surprising discovery can help the researchers to understand what goes on in the distance universe while also gain a better understanding of how the galaxies developed billions of years ago.