Hubble telescope captures supermassive black hole devouring a star
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Featured Image Credit: NASA
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has recorded what's been described as the 'Homer Simpson' of black holes.
Why? Because it twisted a star into a donut shape before devouring it mercilessly.
What's more, astronomers called the black hole a 'messy eater', as it belched out a significant amount of light and high-energy radiation after gobbling the remnants.
The interstellar snack time is what's called a tidal disruption event (TDE), an astronomical phenomenon that unfolds when a star approaches a supermassive black hole close enough to be pulled apart by its tidal force.
This process is called spaghettification. Sadly, this has nothing to do with food either.
You know those movies where people or objects get stretched apart by the black hole's force? Well, that's spaghettification.
NASA explained that its Hubble couldn't photograph the latest event, named AT2022dsb, up close as the devoured star is nearly 300 million lightyears away.
But astronomers were able to use the space telescope's powerful ultraviolet sensitivity to survey the light from the shredded star.
This is an exciting development, as not many TDE's have been studied using ultraviolet light before.
Although approximately 100 of these events around black holes have been observed using other telescopes, unlike Hubble, data was taken using x-ray light from a hot corona that formed after the star had been ripped apart.
Emily Engelthaler of the Center for Astrophysics, Harvard & Smithsonian (CfA), explained: "There are still very few tidal events that are observed in ultraviolet light given the observing time.
"This is really unfortunate because there's a lot of information that you can get from the ultraviolet spectra.
"We're excited because we can get these details about what the debris is doing. The tidal event can tell us a lot about a black hole."
Peter Maksym of the CfA went on to discuss the AT2022dsb event, which was first caught in March last year by the All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae, a network of automated telescopes led by astronomers from Ohio State University.
Since this space-based snacking session was bright and close enough to Earth, Hubble was able to collect ultraviolet data to give astronomers a more accurate idea of what went down.
"Typically, these events are hard to observe," said Maksym. "You get maybe a few observations at the beginning of the disruption when it's really bright.
"Our program is different in that it is designed to look at a few tidal events over a year to see what happens.
"We saw this early enough that we could observe it at these very intense black hole accretion stages. We saw the accretion rate drop as it turned to a trickle over time."
The space telescope's observations were said to be transmitted from the aforementioned donut-shaped area of gas.
Maksym added: "We're looking somewhere on the edge of that donut. We're seeing a stellar wind from the black hole sweeping over the surface that's being projected towards us at speeds of 20 million miles per hour (three percent the speed of light).
"We really are still getting our heads around the event. You shred the star and then it's got this material that's making its way into the black hole. And so you've got models where you think you know what is going on, and then you've got what you actually see.
"This is an exciting place for scientists to be: right at the interface of the known and the unknown."