While a black hole was crushing a star, NASA’s Hubble was watching

While a black hole was crushing a star, NASA's Hubble was watching
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The invisibility of a black hole could be considered its greatest strength. Through the fabric of space, these silent beasts drink every drop of light that seeps into their gravitational pulses, bottling these rays from the observable universe, and in the dark, wait for a helpless star to appear. So they attack.

Now, scientists have announced that NASA Hubble Space Telescope Captured What Comes Next in such a cosmic nightmare, also known as a tidal disruption event, during which a black hole feeds on its prey, or “grows” a star. The astronomers shared the news Thursday at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

“Usually these events are hard to observe. You might get some observations at the beginning of the outage when it’s really bright,” Peter Maksym of the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian said in a statement. “We saw this early enough to be able to observe it in these very intense black hole accretion stages.”

Caught in the deadly gravitational embrace of an abyss, this star’s spherical shape aggressively transformed into a twisted strand of glowing matter. Before Hubble’s glassy eyes, the star ripped apart brutally until it looked like a warped whirlwind of fairy dust, encircling its predator, leaving a flaming tail to illuminate the void of space.

Aptly, this is sometimes known as a black hole.”spaghetting“It matters because even the strongest of objects unlucky enough to step too close to the gravitationally extreme pit breaks into brittle, noodle-like shards.


This sequence of artist illustrations shows how a black hole can devour a star it overlooks. 1. A normal star passes close to a supermassive black hole at the center of a galaxy. 2. The outer gases of the star are pulled into the gravitational field of the black hole. 3. The star is crushed when tidal forces pull it apart. 4. Stellar remnants are drawn into a donut-shaped ring around the black hole and will eventually fall into the black hole, releasing an enormous amount of high-energy light and radiation.

NASA, ESA, Leah Hustak (STScI)

Meanwhile, the black hole devoured its now star donut, scientifically called a toroid at this point, dragging gases from the tortured orb while simultaneously spitting out material like bones from a delicious chicken dinner. For context, this bull is believed to be the size of our whole Solar system.

“We’re looking somewhere on the edge of that donut. We’re seeing a stellar wind from the black hole sweeping across the surface being projected toward us at speeds of 20 million miles per hour,” Maksym said, which translates to 3 percent. of the speed of light.

This is huge not only because, well, it’s absolutely spectacular, but also because galaxies with silent or quiescent black holes like the one Hubble analyzed are expected to gobble up a star only once every 100,000 years.

“We’re really still thinking about the event,” Maksym said.

A simulation of a star breaking apart after approaching a black hole.

DESY, Scientific Communication Laboratory

But it didn’t look like a Hollywood movie.

To be clear, Hubble does not literally capture images of everything that happens in real time. So no, this black hole did not resemble the iconic interstellar leviathan from the ‘viewer’s point of view.

I mean, after all, this whole situation happened about 300 million light-years from Earth, which also means that it happened about 300 million years ago, but the light from the event just hit our planet, so I figured it out. we are looking at what I call “the present.”

However, what Hubble did to capture this scene allows scientists to deduce what it is. would do it seems as if we can somehow see the details unfold like a movie.

The telescope’s powerful ultraviolet sensitivity was able to study the light transmitted by the shredded star that traveled to Earth over millennia, and astronomers were basically able to track all of those light signals to draw how the star twisted, wrinkled, and wrinkled as it perished.

You can see an image from the event below, based on the team’s calculations.

“There are still very few tidal events that are observed in ultraviolet light given the observation time. This is really unfortunate because there is a lot of information that can be gleaned from ultraviolet spectra,” Emily Engelthaler of the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian said in a statement. “We’re excited that we can get these details about what the debris is doing. The tidal event can tell us a lot about a black hole.”

This event, formally named AT2022dsb, was captured on March 1, 2022 by a network of ground-based telescopes called the All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae.

That piqued the interest of Hubble astronomers, who immediately moved to try to get some ultraviolet readings on the violent tidal disruption for as long as possible, to pin down as much information as possible about the evolution of the star at as the black hole tore at her. .

“You chop up the star and then you have this material working its way into the black hole. Then you have models where you think you know what’s going on, and then you have what you actually see,” Maksym said. “This is an exciting place for scientists: right at the interface of the known and the unknown.”

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