Scientists get first glimpse of black hole eating star, ejecting high-speed flare

November 26, 2015
A black hole devouring a star. Credit: NASA

An international team of astrophysicists led by a Johns Hopkins University scientist has for the first time witnessed a star being swallowed by a black hole and ejecting a flare of matter moving at nearly the speed of light.

The finding reported Thursday in the journal Science tracks the star—about the size of our sun—as it shifts from its customary path, slips into the gravitational pull of a supermassive black hole and is sucked in, said Sjoert van Velzen, a Hubble fellow at Johns Hopkins.

"These events are extremely rare," van Velzen said. "It's the first time we see everything from the stellar destruction followed by the launch of a conical outflow, also called a jet, and we watched it unfold over several months."

Black holes are areas of space so dense that irresistible gravitational force stops the escape of matter, gas and even light, rendering them invisible and creating the effect of a void in the fabric of space. Astrophysicists had predicted that when a black hole is force-fed a large amount of gas, in this case a whole star, then a fast-moving jet of plasma - elementary particles in a magnetic field - can escape from near the black hole rim, or "event horizon." This study suggests this prediction was correct, the scientists said.

"Previous efforts to find evidence for these jets, including my own, were late to the game," said van Velzen, who led the analysis and coordinated the efforts of 13 other scientists in the United States, the Netherlands, Great Britain and Australia.

Supermassive , the largest of black holes, are believed to exist at the center of most massive galaxies. This particular one lies at the lighter end of the supermassive black hole spectrum, at only about a million times the mass of our sun, but still packing the force to gobble a star.

The first observation of the star being destroyed was made by a team at the Ohio State University, using an optical telescope in Hawaii. That team announced its discovery on Twitter in early December 2014.

After reading about the event, van Velzen contacted an astrophysics team led by Rob Fender at the University of Oxford in Great Britain. That group used radio telescopes to follow up as fast as possible. They were just in time to catch the action.

By the time it was done, the international team had data from satellites and ground-based telescopes that gathered X-ray, radio and optical signals, providing a stunning "multi-wavelength" portrait of this event.

It helped that the galaxy in question is closer to Earth than those studied previously in hopes of tracking a jet emerging after the destruction of a star. This galaxy is about 300 million light years away, while the others were at least three times farther away. One light year is 5.88 trillion miles.

The first step for the international team was to rule out the possibility that the light was from a pre-existing expansive swirling mass called an "accretion disk" that forms when a black hole is sucking in matter from space. That helped to confirm that the sudden increase of light from the galaxy was due to a newly trapped star.

"The destruction of a star by a black hole is beautifully complicated, and far from understood," van Velzen said. "From our observations, we learn the streams of stellar debris can organize and make a jet rather quickly, which is valuable input for constructing a complete theory of these events."

Van Velzen last year completed his doctoral dissertation at Radboud University in the Netherlands, where he studied jets from . In the last line of the dissertation, he expressed his hope to discover these events within four years. It turned out to take only a few months after the ceremony for his dissertation defense.

Van Velzen and his team were not the only ones to hunt for radio signals from this particular unlucky star. A group at Harvard observed the same source with radio telescopes in New Mexico and announced its results online. Both teams presented results at a workshop in Jerusalem in early November. It was the first time the two competing teams had met face to face.

"The meeting was an intense, yet very productive exchange of ideas about this source," van Velzen said. "We still get along very well; I actually went for a long hike near the Dead Sea with the leader of the competing group."

Explore further: How massive can black holes get?

More information: "A radio jet from the optical and X-ray bright stellar tidal disruption flare ASASSN-14li" Science, www.sciencemag.org/lookup/doi/10.1126/science.aad1182

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19 comments

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wduckss
2 / 5 (7) Nov 26, 2015
Is unclear.
The diameter of the galaxy is ..? (10,000 or more light-years?). The diameter of the black hole is ..?, the diameter of the sun?
How is the star immediately crossed 5,000 or more, light-years?
How seen through the black hole 5,000 light years thick layer of matter?
It is unclear.
baudrunner
2.6 / 5 (5) Nov 26, 2015
That's a warp signature of a starship. Look for a really big halo to see another quantum leap.

Happy Thanksgiving!
GSwift7
4 / 5 (8) Nov 27, 2015
to wducks:

Your comment is brilliant. You should totally publish those ideas.

Baudrunner:

No, "It's a trap!"

Now witness the destructive power of my fully operational battle station.

Happy thanksgiving back to you, and to everyone else as well. Oh, and by the way, "You must build more pylons". Some people will get it.
vlaaing peerd
4.5 / 5 (8) Nov 27, 2015

The diameter of the galaxy is ..?
The diameter of the black hole is ..?, the diameter of the sun?
How is the star immediately crossed 5,000 or more, light-years?
How seen through the black hole 5,000 light years thick layer of matter?

If it were our galaxy, that would be difficult. Our Milky way is about 100.000 lightyears accross and indeed almost impossible to look towards the center. The jets however would be perpendicular towards the galactic plane and supposedly the light would be very visible.

This however is in another galaxy and we might (I assume) be looking into the center rather than sideways. The BH would not be very large in size, but the enormous mass would accelerate the stars in close orbit to such high speeds you can infer the position of the BH from it.

They -according to the article- found a huge amount of light coming from that position and succesfully ruled out it was a sucked in accretion disk and probably one star less.
vlaaing peerd
5 / 5 (6) Nov 27, 2015
and to my fellow planetary citizens on the northern american continent: Happy thanksgiving.
gkam
2 / 5 (4) Nov 27, 2015
Wow, a huge Cosmic Urp.
my2cts
4.4 / 5 (7) Nov 27, 2015
Is unclear.
The diameter of the galaxy is ..? (10,000 or more light-years?). The diameter of the black hole is ..?, the diameter of the sun?
How is the star immediately crossed 5,000 or more, light-years?
How seen through the black hole 5,000 light years thick layer of matter?
It is unclear.

Ignorance is not a valid argument against the paper.
SuperThunder
3.7 / 5 (6) Nov 27, 2015
Makes me glad we only have to worry about asteroid collisions and CME events.
wduckss
1.7 / 5 (6) Nov 27, 2015
The diameter of the galaxy (from pole to pole) is up to 30,000 light-years. I suggested 10,000 light years.
This probably implies if the discussion of the black hole.
The diameter of the black hole is unknown but no larger than the diameter of the sun.
Maybe there are more black holes, one at the poles?
If one is did not warp, already teleportation.
But is argument that the article is not respected.
thaken
1 / 5 (5) Nov 27, 2015
Weight of a galaxy
Referring to the, Upside down Theory: Protons and Electrons are derived through a process of a Singularity shredding the fabric of space into individual fields of point like energies creating matter and antimatter (W1). (W2) What we understand as matter is thrown off at the equator of the singularity, accumulating a cloud of electrons and protons in a disk like shape. Anything one would consider as antimatter is absorbed into the singularity in the form as mass. If this statement is true, than the singularity should have the same mass as the surrounding disk. (w3): A neutron acceptable for recycling.
Thanks for not allowing W1, W2, W3, explanations!
viko_mx
1.6 / 5 (7) Nov 28, 2015
"An international team of astrophysicists led by a Johns Hopkins University scientist has for the first time witnessed a star being swallowed by a black hole and ejecting a flare of matter moving at nearly the speed of light."

This claim is some how funny. Evidence when these "scientist" can not see actual object that can do such kind of things and can not understand its real nature because lack of ability for direct observations and experiments. Тhey attribute frivolous qualities to unobservable objects that fabricate evidence of their faforite theories.

"A black hole devouring a star." This photo but an artistic interpretation.
I think that people will fail in their desire to take the place of God from vain motives.
ForFreeMinds
not rated yet Nov 28, 2015
For a size perspective, from https://en.wikipe...ilky_Way

"The Milky Way is a barred spiral galaxy that has a diameter usually considered to be about 100,000–120,000 light-years[26] but may be 150,000–180,000 light-years.[27]"

Thus this event was in another galaxy that is around 100X the diameter of our galaxy away, or 300 million light years away per the article.

According to https://en.wikipe..._regions we can see light that is from a galaxy that is 30 billion light years away (even though the universe is only 13 billion years old due to expansion of the universe). So this even was relatively close to us considering the size of the universe, approximately within the closest 3% of the universe.
my2cts
3.7 / 5 (3) Nov 28, 2015
This photo but an artistic interpretation.

They failed to explain that in the caption. Not even the scale is mentioned. Sloppy.
my2cts
4.2 / 5 (5) Nov 28, 2015
"An international team of astrophysicists led by a Johns Hopkins University scientist has for the first time witnessed a star being swallowed by a black hole and ejecting a flare of matter moving at nearly the speed of light."

This claim is some how funny. Evidence when these "scientist" can not see actual object that can do such kind of things and can not understand its real nature because lack of ability for direct observations and experiments. Тhey attribute frivolous qualities to unobservable objects that fabricate evidence of their faforite theories.

I do not agree. They observed this time evolving object in many wavelengths. More wavelengths than you can "directly" see with your eyes. Anyway, lack of observation and facts never stop _you_ from making assertions.
my2cts
4.5 / 5 (8) Nov 28, 2015

I think that people will fail in their desire to take the place of God from vain motives.

By what twist of mind does observing this object and then trying to understand it amount to a "desire to take the place of God from vain motives" ?
What do you hope to achieve with these fabricated accusations against honest hardworking scientists, prophet status ?
wduckss
2 / 5 (4) Nov 29, 2015
Make no mistake. Discovery is excellent.
The problem begins with an explanation. Instead of black holes place the cyclone and all agrees, there is no ambiguities.
See (Cyclone instead of black holes) http://www.svemir...#cykloni
Phys1
3 / 5 (2) Nov 29, 2015
There is a much better article at
hub dot jhu dot edu slash 2015 slash 11 slash 26 slash black-hole-eats-a-star
Apparently there is now new phys.org spam filter which takes out messages with really good links.
my2cts
1 / 5 (1) Nov 29, 2015
Phys1 is identical to my2cts, by the way.
katesisco
2 / 5 (4) Nov 29, 2015
Well, is this an example of a cosmic magnetron using magnetics to spin up matter to mass?
I have proposed that a bh is but light mazed.

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