Astronomers capture for the first time the image of a black hole devouring a star

Multiple NASA telescopes have recently observed a huge black hole tearing apart an unlucky star that got too close.

Located about 250 million light-years from Earth, at the center of another galaxy, it is the fifth-closest example of a star-destroying black hole ever observed. reports NASA.

Once the gravity of the black hole completely broke the star, astronomers observed a spectacular increase in high-energy X-ray light around the black hole. This indicated that as stellar material was dragged toward its doom, it formed an extremely hot structure above the black hole called the corona.

The satelite nuSTAR (Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescopic Array) of NASA is the most sensitive space telescope capable of observing these wavelengths of lightand the proximity of the event provided unprecedented insight into the formation and evolution of the corona, according to a new study published in Astrophysical Journal.

The work demonstrates how the destruction of a star by a black hole –a process formally known as a tidal disruption event- it could be used to better understand what happens to material that is captured by one of these giants before it is completely devoured.

most black holes that scientists can study they are surrounded by hot gas that has accumulated over many yearssometimes millennia, and has formed disks billions of kilometers wide.

In some cases, these disks outshine entire galaxies. Even around these bright sources, but especially around much less active black holes, a single star stands out, tearing apart and burning away. And from start to finish, the process usually takes only a few weeks or months.

The observability and short duration of tidal disturbance events make them especially attractive to astronomers, who can unravel how the black hole’s gravity manipulates the material around it, creating incredible light shows and new physical features.

“Tidal disturbances are a kind of cosmic laboratory”, says Suvi Gezari, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore and co-author of the study. “They are our window into a real-time feed from a huge black hole lurking in the center of a galaxy.”

The new study focuses on an event called AT2021ehb, which took place in a galaxy with a central black hole whose mass is about 10 million times that of our Sun (roughly the difference between a bowling ball and the Titanic). During this tidal disturbance, the side of the star closest to the black hole was pushed on with more force than the side farthest from the star, stretching the whole thing out and leaving nothing but a long noodle of hot gas.

Scientists believe that the gas stream swirls around the black hole during these types of events, colliding with itself. This is thought to create shock waves and outward gas flows that generate visible light, as well as wavelengths not visible to the human eye, such as ultraviolet light and X-rays.