Watch a black hole devour a star

Hyperaxion Jul 13, 2020

Black holes are ferocious devourers of matter and energy. From the event horizon, not even light escapes, but when a black hole devours a star, the result is quite spectacular.

Black holes are relatively common across the universe, but it is not every day that they have a star for dinner. Such a banquet is estimated to occur with a single black hole every hundred thousand years in a galaxy.

Watch a black hole devour a star
(Credit: NASA).

In the past few weeks, a black hole that consumes an amount of matter equivalent to one Sun a day, J2157, has made headlines.

This event was a rather special occasion for astronomers, given the time interval between occurrences of this type of phenomenon.

When a black hole consumes a star, an accretion disk forms around it. A video recently made by NASA and Ohio State University shows some of the beauty of the accretion disk.

The observations were made in January 2019 with the All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae (ASAS-SN), which belongs to Ohio State University

With the data obtained by ASAS-SN, NASA was able to generate a video that shows the ferocious feeding of a black hole. The video was published on Youtube in September 2019.

Watch a black hole devour a star:

(Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center).

The black hole

It is a supermassive black hole, with a mass equivalent to approximately six million suns, located in the constellation of Volans. The event took place many millions of years ago, but the light has only reached us now.

The black hole in question is 375 million light-years away, in the center of the galaxy 2MASX J07001137-6602251.

It is larger than Sagittarius A*, the black hole in the center of the Milky Way. Sagittarius A* has 4 million solar masses.

The observation

This type of occurrence, when a star approaches a black hole, is called a Tidal Disturbance Event, or TDE.

The TDE occurred in a patch of the sky that coincided, at the time, with the region being observed by TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite), a satellite from NASA and MIT used to hunt exoplanets.

When ASAS-SN was looking at that region, it noticed a sign, which could only be a TDE. TESS had data from the previous eight days, and they were able to verify the initial peak of brightness.

Then, they used data from the Low Dispersion Survey Spectrograph (LDSS-3), an instrument on the 6.5m Magellan II (Clay) telescope at Las Campanas Observatory, located in Chile.

The team continued to observe the brightness until the peak was over, and carried out studies to obtain more details and confirmations with other equipment. The results were published in September 2019 in The Astrophysical Journal.

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