- New illustration shows a star being swallowed by an intermediate-mass black hole
- It leaves behind a ring of dust that looks like pieces left on a plate.
- This clipping of a star produces what astronomers call a ‘tidal disruption event’
- Could shine the combined light of every star in the black hole’s host galaxy for months
When it comes to eating hearty meals, it appears that black holes can be just as messy as some kids.
That’s because a surprising new illustration shows the moment a star is consumed by a cosmic giant, leaving behind it a ring of dust that looks like the fragments left on a plate.
This clipping of a helpless star produces what astronomers call a ‘tidal disintegration event’, accompanied by a burst of radiation that can shine the combined light of every star in the black hole’s host galaxy for months or years.
This particular black hole, captured using X-rays emitted by a tidal disruption event known as J2150, is the type that has not been observed for a long time – an intermediate-mass black hole.
‘The fact that we were able to capture this black hole while it was eating a star provides a remarkable opportunity to see that otherwise,’ said paper co-author and University of Arizona professor Ann Zabludoff. What would be invisible?
‘Not only that, but by analyzing the brightness we were able to better understand this elusive class of black holes, which may account for most of the black holes in the centers of galaxies.’
Gobbled Up: This Stunning New Illustration Shows the Moment When a Star Is Eaten by a Black Hole, Leaving Behind It a Ring of Dust That Looks Like Pieces Left on a Plate
What is a Tidal Disruption Event?
When a star gets too close to a black hole, the intense gravity of the black hole results in tidal waves that can tear the star apart.
In these events, called tidal disruptions, some of the stellar debris is thrown outward at high speed, while the rest falls toward the black hole.
This causes a distinct X-ray flare that can last for years.
After a star is destroyed by a tidal disruption, the strong gravitational force of the black hole pulls away most of the star’s remains.
The friction heats up this debris, generating enormous amounts of X-ray radiation.
After this increase of X-rays, the amount of light decreases as stellar material falls beyond the black hole’s event horizon – the point beyond which no light or other information can escape.
The gas often falls towards the black hole by spiraling inward and forming a disk.
But the process that created these disc structures, known as ‘accretion discs’, remains a mystery.
Researchers have determined that most X-rays are produced by material that is extremely close to a black hole.
In fact, the brightest material may actually occupy the smallest possible stable orbit.
By re-analysing the X-ray data used to observe the J2150 flare, and comparing it with sophisticated theoretical models, the authors showed that this flare was actually caused by an ominous star and an intermediate-mass black hole. was born out of an encounter between
The intermediate black hole in question is of a particularly low mass – for a black hole, that is – weighing about 10,000 times the mass of the Sun.
According to Sixiang Wen, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Arizona Steward Observatory, the team was able to classify it as an intermediate black hole after measuring its mass and spin.
Tidal disruption events have been observed in the centers of large galaxies hosting dozens of massive black holes, and have also been observed in the centers of some smaller galaxies that may contain intermediate black holes.
However, previous data have never been detailed enough to prove that an individual tidal disruption flare was driven by an intermediate black hole.
Study co-author Nicholas Stone, a senior lecturer at the Hebrew University, said: “Thanks to modern astronomical observations, we know that the centers of almost all galaxies that are similar to or larger in size than our Milky Way are central supermassive black holes. host it.” Jerusalem.
‘These behemoths range in size from 1 million to 10 billion times the mass of our Sun, and they become powerful sources of electromagnetic radiation when much interstellar gas falls around them.’
The mass of these black holes is closely related to the total mass of their host galaxies, so the largest galaxies host the largest supermassive black holes.
“We still know very little about the existence of black holes in the centers of galaxies smaller than the Milky Way,” said co-author Peter Jonker from Radboud University in the Netherlands.
‘Due to observational limitations, finding central black holes much smaller than one million solar masses is challenging.’
Despite their estimated abundance, the origins of supermassive black holes remain unknown.
However, one theory is that intermediate-mass black holes may be the seeds from which supermassive black holes evolved.
Jonker said: ‘If we get a better idea of how many true intermediate black holes are, it could help determine which theories about supermassive black hole formation hold true.’
When a star gets too close to a black hole, gravitational forces create intense tides that break the star into a stream of gas (pictured), resulting in a cataclysmic event known as a tidal disintegration event. Is.
The measurement of J2150’s spin is also important, as it contains clues to how black holes grow.
This is a fast spin, but not the fastest possible, explained Zabludoff, which begs the question of how it ended up with a spin in this range.
“It’s possible that the black hole formed this way and hasn’t changed much since, or that it was formed by merging two intermediate-mass black holes recently,” she said.
‘We know that the spin we measured does not cover the scenarios where the black hole grows…