Astronomers have captured the moment a supermassive black hole shredded a star the size of our Sun.
Scientists were able to monitor light flaring from the process, known as a tidal disruption event, from a black hole just over 215 million light years Earth using telescopes from the European Southern Observatory (ESO).
They observed the star being physically torn apart as it was sucked into the black hole’s giant maw.
When a star strays too close to a supermassive black hole, it is subjected to the phenomenal strength of the black hole’s gravity.
The star can be physically torn apart and its matter pulled into long strings, a process known as “spaghettification”.
When these forces exceed the star’s cohesive force, the star loses pieces that rush into the black hole.
This exceptional influx of matter produces intense electromagnetic emissions, which last for several months while the debris is digested.
While other tidal disruption events have previously been observed, the powerful burst of light they emit are often obscured by a curtain of dust and debris.
Because they discovered the event just a short time after the star was ripped apart the team were able to pinpoint how the obscuring debris forms.
The discovery would help scientists to better understand how matter behaves in the extreme gravity environments surrounding supermassive black holes.
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