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Astronomers Witness a Star’s Blazing Death by Black Hole

7 Feb 2017, 17:01 UTC
Astronomers Witness a Star’s Blazing Death by Black Hole
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Artist illustration depicting the record breaking “tidal disruption event” (TDE) in XJ1500+0154. Credit: CXC/M. Weiss; X-ray: NASA/CXC/UNH/D. Lin et al, Optical: CFHT.
A star’s violent death by black hole has been spotted by researchers from the University of New Hampshire, using observations made by three orbiting x-ray space telescopes. Located in a small galaxy 1.8 billion light-years away, the event demonstrates what happens when a star gets too close to a supermassive black hole and gets torn apart, some of its material falling into the black hole but also some getting thrown outwards at high speeds—all heated to temperatures intensely high enough to shine in x-ray wavelengths.
“We have witnessed a star’s spectacular and prolonged demise,” said Dacheng Lin, a research scientist at UNH’s Space Science Center and the study’s lead author. “Dozens of these so-called tidal disruption events [TDEs] have been detected since the 1990s, but none that remained bright for nearly as long as this one.”
The extraordinary long bright phase of this TDE means that either this was the most massive star ever to be torn apart during one of these events, or the first where a smaller star was completely torn apart.
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