Scientists Learn a Lot After Witnessing Supermassive Black Hole Ripping Apart a Star

Over the last 10 years, scientists have been observing bright infrared light and flares coming from the location of two colliding galaxies.

In a newly published study, scientists say that from their modeling, they believe they have most likely been observing a tidal disruption event (TDE), or the tearing apart of a star by a black hole.

“Arp299,” the name of two merging galaxies as seen by emitted x-rays. (NASA/CXC/University of Crete/K. Anastasopoulou et al, NASA/NuSTAR/GSFC/A. Ptak et al; Optical: NASA/STScI) and a close-up of a black hole consuming a star as it expels fast-moving particle jets above and below the black hole disc. (ESO/L. Calçada/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr[CC BY 2.0 (ept.ms/2haHp2Y)])
Although the modeling is not conclusive, it suggests that a supermassive black hole in the center of two colliding galaxies has been devouring a star twice the mass of our Sun.

As the black hole sucked up some of the matter from the star, it produced a bright flare. It also produced streams of outwardly moving particles that resulted in radio waves detectable to the telescopes on Earth.

The observation is the first time scientists have been able to witness jets of particles being emitted from a TDE.

The colliding galaxies, Arp 299, is 150 million light-years away from Earth—a distance that is equivalent to traveling from the Earth and to the Sun 9.5 trillion times, Gizmodo reported.

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.

Scientists now also have a better understanding of how jets associated with TDEs are formed.

Regardless of how different jets are formed, “the association of a jet with a particular type of accretion event—the tidal disruption of a star—could potentially improve our understanding of jet formation in general,” Clive Tadhunter of the University of Sheffield told Gizmodo.