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Three Stars Were Utterly Destroyed by Supermassive Black Holes

First Posted: Aug 11, 2014 04:28 PM EDT

Scientists have found out that black holes may be more ravenous than expected. They've registered three possible occasions of the total destruction of stars by supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies.

A star in a galaxy passes by a black hole closely enough to be destroyed about once every 10,000 years. It's possible to detect the death of a star in distant galaxies through the bright X-ray flare that the star creates as it dies.

In this case, the scientists first discovered these instances of star destruction by using data from the X-ray orbiting observatories ROSAT and XXM-Newton. They had to distinguish the destruction of the star by a black hole from other occurrences, though. They did this by filtering out extraneous signals from consideration flares in our own galaxy.

In the end, the researchers identified three X-ray sources that reveal the deaths of stars by supermassive black holes. More specifically, this data seems to suggest that the destruction of stars near black holes occurs once every 30,000 years within the same galaxy.

That said, the uncertainty of these estimates is significant since they're based on a very small number of occurrences. That's why researchers plan to launch the space observatory Spectrum-S-Gamma in 2016, which should provide scientists with more data and more information about black holes. In fact, the researchers estimate that several hundred occurrences will be registered annual with the help of the new observatory.

The findings reveal a bit more about black holes, and show how they can lead to the destruction of stars. Now, scientists are looking forward to more observations to learn a bit more about our universe.

The findings are published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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