A Black Hole Shreds Star Into Pieces

First Posted: Oct 21, 2015 03:05 PM EDT

Astronomers from the University of Maryland recently observed a tidal disruption event in a galaxy that is 290 million light years from Earth - a black hole shredding a star into pieces. This was the closest tidal disruption that has taken place in the last decade, according to a news release.

When a star is too close to a black hole, the intense gravity from the black hole causes tidal forces to act on the star, which can rip the star apart. These events are known as tidal disruptions. Some of the stellar debris spreads outwards at high speeds and the rest falls toward the black hole. This results in a distinct X-ray flare which can last for years, according to the researchers.

"These results support some of our newest ideas for the structure and evolution of tidal disruption events," said Coleman Miller, co-author of the study, astronomy professor and director of the Joint Space-Science Institute.

"In the future, tidal disruptions can provide us with laboratories to study the effects of extreme gravity," Miller added.

The researchers claimed that they have seen quite a number of tidal disruptions, however this is the best one, and it will allow them to fully understand what happens when a black hole shreds a star.

When a star is destroyed in a tidal disruption, the strong gravitational forces from the black hole reels in most of the star's remains. Friction then heats the falling debris, which creates large amounts of x-ray radiation. The researchers claim that most of the x-rays are created from material that is extremely close to the black hole, according to the researchers.

"The black hole tears the star apart and starts swallowing material really quickly, but that's not the end of the story," said Jelle Kaastra, co-author of the study and astronomer at the Institute for Space Research in the Netherlands. "The black hole can't keep up that pace so it expels some of the material outwards."

Astronomers are hoping to study more cases like this so they can determine how black holes affect nearby environments and to learn more about what black holes do to any stars and other bodies that drift too close.

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