PHOTO CREDITS: NASA
According to CNET.com, Astronomers have captured the most detailed images yet of a star being ripped apart by a black hole.
“Spaghettification” is a term coined by Stephen Hawking in his book A Brief History of Time to describe an extraordinarily strong tidal disruption event. This takes place when the black hole’s gravity is so intense that anything that comes close enough to it gets stretched vertically into long thin strips, making it kind of look like spaghetti, hence the name.
This event, also known as catalog entry AT2019qiz, was caught in astounding detail due to astronomers catching it before their view was disrupted by the imminent dust cloud that forms from such events.
Kate Alexander, a NASA Einstein Fellow at Northwestern University, told reporters “We could actually see the curtain of dust and debris being drawn up as the black hole launched a powerful outflow of material with velocities up to 10,000 kilometers per second (22 million miles per hour)… This is a unique peek behind the curtain that provided the first opportunity to pinpoint the origin of the obscuring material and follow in real time how it engulfs the black hole” (CNet).
This is the closest flare of this kind ever recorded, at 215 million light years (1.3 sextillion miles) away from the Earth. Astronomer Matt Nicholl and his team at the University of Birmingham in the UK plotted the event across multiple different wavelengths of light. Although tidal disruption events (TDE’s) such as these mainly glow in optical and ultraviolet wavelengths, Nicholl and his team were able to plot ultraviolet, radio, optical, and X-ray wavelengths. This allowed Nicholls and his team to calculate the masses of these objects. “The observations showed that the star had roughly the same mass as our own sun, and that it lost about half of that to the black hole, which is over a million times more massive.” The team also wrote “The exquisite data presented here will make AT2019qiz a Rosetta Stone for interpreting future TDE observations” (Science Alert).
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