Astronomers have captured the last moments of a star just before it was ripped apart by a black hole. The violent occurrence—called a tidal disruption event—created a blast of light seen just 215 million light years from Earth, the closest such flare recorded to date. The research is published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
"The idea of a black hole 'sucking in' a nearby star sounds like science fiction. But this is exactly what happens in a tidal disruption event," explained Matt Nicholl, a lecturer and Royal Astronomical Society research fellow at the University of Birmingham, UK, and the lead author on the new study.
To get a detailed look at just what happens when a star is devoured by a monstrous black hole, researchers pointed the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT) and New Technology Telescope (NTT) at a new flash of light that occurred close to a supermassive black hole last year. Followup observations occurred over a six-month period at multiple telescopes around the world, including the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian's MMT, located at the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory in Amado, Arizona.
Pretty cool! And potentially a major step forward in studying these events to learn more about them.
Scientists Get Front-Row Seats to Star's Death by Spaghettification [Harvard and Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics]
Death by Spaghettification: ESO Telescopes Record Last Moments of Star Devoured by a Black Hole [European Southern Observatory]
Black hole kills star by 'spaghettification' as telescopes watch [Elizabeth Howell / Space.com]
Death by black hole: Astronomers spot flare from "spaghettification" of star [Jennifer Oullette / Ars Technica]
Image: Public Domain via NASA/Wikimedia Commons