Astronomers have discovered a monstrous black hole with an appetite and a sweet tooth. The black hole is tearing apart an unfortunate star, pulling it apart like taffy and whipping the “leftovers” into a stellar donut the size of the Solar System before feasting on this cosmic confectionery.
The All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae (ASAS-SN or “killer”) observed for the first time a violent event through a flash of high-energy radiation, known as a tidal disruption event (TDE). The feast is taking place at the center of a galaxy 300 million light-years away.
Astronomers followed up the observations of the flash by observing the scene at the center of the galaxy ESO 583-G004 in ultraviolet light using the Hubble Space Telescope. Although Hubble is too far from this TDE, designated AT2022dsb, to trace the star’s fate when it appears, the team of astronomers was able to reconstruct the scene using light from the doomed star.
Connected: Black hole announces itself to astronomers by violently tearing apart a star
The star’s spectra revealed how it was ripped apart by the black hole before being spun like taffy and dumped into the black hole. The TDE process left the cosmic monster surrounded by a doughnut-shaped torus of stellar material and superheated gas and while much of this material would slowly collapse into the black hole, some would escape into space.
black holes are dirty eaters
Thus far, telescopes including Hubble have observed about 100 such violent interactions between black holes and stars that trigger annihilation by tidal forces created by the black hole’s immense gravitational influence. What makes the observation of AT2022dsb special is that it was made in ultraviolet light, whereas most TDEs are observed in X-ray light.
“There are still very few tidal events that have been observed in ultraviolet light,” researcher Emily Engelthaler of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) said in a statement. (opens in new tab), “It’s really unfortunate because there’s a lot of information you can get from ultraviolet spectra.”
The team that observed TDE AT2022dsb using ultraviolet spectroscopy was able to monitor it for a much longer period than usual, from the beginning of “feeding” or “accretion” to the later stages.
“Typically, these events are hard to observe. You probably get a few observations at the beginning of the disturbance when it’s really bright. Our program is different in that it’s designed to see a few tidal events a year.” is designed for what happens,” said researcher Peter Maxim, CFA. “We saw it long enough that we could see it in these very rapid black hole accretion phases. We saw a decline in the accretion rate as it slowed down over time.”
TDEs have shown astronomers that black holes are “disorderly eaters,” meaning that in these feeding events material left over from the destruction of ill-fated stars will be blown into space, possibly sending jets of matter moving toward light at incredible speeds. have been ,
This TDE is no different. The team’s observations suggest that a stellar wind moves toward Earth at about 3% the speed of light, or about 20 million miles per hour (about 32.2 million kilometers per hour).
Changes in the remnants of the destroyed star in TDE AT2022dsb are occurring over a period of days to months, meaning that ultraviolet spectroscopy and observations of these changes could tell astronomers more about the feasting black hole.
“We’re excited because we can get these details of what the debris is doing. Tidal phenomena can tell us a lot about black holes,” Engelthaler said. “We’re excited because we can get these details of what the debris is doing. Tidal phenomena can tell us a lot about black holes.”
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observing the edge of a cosmic donut
Spectroscopic data of AT2022dsb collected by Hubble were analyzed by the team, who believe it is coming from a very bright, hot, doughnut-shaped region of gas that was once the star’s constituent material.
They were also able to determine that this torrent of gas swirling around the black hole is around the size of our solar system. According to Maxim, observations have been made from somewhere on the edge of the donut.
“We’re really still thinking about this incident,” Maxim concluded. “You broke up the star and then it’s got this material that’s making its way into the black hole. And so you have models where you think you know what’s going on, and then you get that is what you actually see.
“It’s an exciting place for scientists to be: at the interface of the known and the unknown.”
The team’s findings were announced Wednesday, Jan. 12, at the 241st meeting of the American Astronomical Society.
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