Astronomers have recently witnessed a black hole swallowing a star, using a series of radio telescopes managed by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). This is the first time such an event has ever been seen.
As the star approached the black hole, massive gravitational forces from the body ripped the star apart, creating a jet. This outpouring of gasses then fell into oblivion, as it crashed into the black hole.
“Much of the time, however, supermassive black holes are not actively devouring anything, so they are in a quiet state. Tidal disruption events can provide us with a unique opportunity to advance our understanding of the formation and evolution of jets in the vicinities of these powerful objects,” said Miguel Perez-Torres, of the Astrophysical Institute of Andalusia in Granada, Spain.
The event took place where two galaxies called Arp 299 are seen colliding, The black hole, 20 million times more massive than our Sun, was seen swallowing a star twice the size of our stellar companion. These objects are so far away that astronomers are just now seeing the event which took place 150 million years ago – when the first bird – Archaeopteryx – came into being, and ten million years before the earliest mammals evolved from marsupials.
Astronomers first saw evidence of the coming collision in 2005, and have been actively watching Arp 299 since that time.
Black holes are the product of massive stars which collapse as they die. The velocity required to escape from their surface becomes greater than the speed of light, meaning every object and energy is trapped forever within its grasp. Most galaxies, including our own Milky Way, have super-massive black holes at their center.
Similar events may have been more common during the earliest eras of the Universe, and this study could provide researchers into a glimpse of the workings of the ancient Cosmos.