A black hole consumes a star, causing an energy burst that may have outshone the entire galaxy.


A black hole consumes a star, causing an energy burst that may have outshone the entire galaxy.

Astronomers looked into a tremendous blast of energy and discovered it was caused by a black hole devouring a star.

The occurrence is particularly interesting since the eating black hole is an intermediate-mass black hole, which has eluded astronomers thus far.

A black hole of intermediate mass has a mass of between 100 and 10,000 times that of the sun. They’ve been hard to notice because, like all black holes, they don’t emit light.

Scientists have long suspected intermediate-mass black holes exist, but none have been observed until the first example was discovered last year from the tiny ripples in space caused by the merger that created it, known as gravitational waves.

This newly discovered “feeding,” which is more appropriately referred to as a tidal disruption event, produced a massive burst of energy that allowed astronomers to not only see this black hole, but also learn more about the black hole that caused it.

As the stars in these tidal disruption events are ripped apart, or “spaghettified,” and collapse into black holes, they can produce flares that outshine the emissions of every star in the galaxies where they happen. This can linger for months or even years at a time.

Sixiang Wen, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Arizona Steward Observatory, led the team that measured the black hole’s mass and spin rate using X-rays from the J2150 tidal disruption event. The research was documented in a publication published in The Astrophysical Journal.

The devouring black hole in issue has a mass of 10,000 times that of the sun, making it too tiny to be a supermassive black hole but too enormous to be a stellar-mass black hole, according to the researchers.

In a press release, co-author and University of Arizona professor of astronomy Ann Zabludoff remarked, “The fact that we were able to catch this black hole while it was devouring a star affords a rare opportunity to view what would otherwise be invisible.”

“Not only that, but by analyzing the flare, we were able to gain a greater understanding of what was going on. This is a condensed version of the information.


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