To get a detailed look at just what happens when a star is devoured by a monstrous black hole, researchers pointed the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT) and New Technology Telescope (NTT) at a new flash of light that occurred close to a supermassive black hole a year ago.
A bright energetic flare is released by the thin strands of the star's material as it falls into the black hole.
This illustration depicts a star (in the foreground) experiencing spaghettification as it's sucked in by a supermassive black hole (in the background).
It was hard for astronomers to study the light from the star because dust and debris created by the spaghettification obscured it from view.
AT2019qiz was initially detected using telescopes from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) but due to the swift action of the astronomers it meant other instruments that collect data in different wavelengths, including X-shooter and EFOSC2, could also target the flare as it grew in luminosity and then faded away.
Since they caught it early, they could see the dust and debris being drawn up as the black hole "launched a powerful outflow of material with velocities up to 32,808,398 ft/s (10,000 km/s)". Through this recent TDE, we are starting to see how black holes can destroy stars and seed the galaxy with new material at the same time.
Nicholl said that the observations suggested the star involved had roughly the mass as our own sun, but that the black hole was "a monster. which is over a million times more massive". This phenomenon, a blast of light from a star being ripped apart by a supermassive black hole, has been studied by ESO telescopes. This time, the global research team was able to study the phenomenon in unprecedented detail thanks to it being detected shortly after the star got ripped apart.
This encounter induces a spread in the specific orbital binding energy across the star that is orders of magnitude greater than the mean binding energy, sufficient to tear the star apart in a 'tidal disruption event'.
The astronomers are now hopeful their observations will help future studies better understand how tidal disruptions work, as well as how matter behaves in the extreme gravitational environment of a black hole. "This is the main case where we see direct proof for outflowing gas during the interruption and gradual addition measure that clarifies both the optical and radio emissions we've found previously", said stargazer Edo Berger of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
Last week a trio of scientists, Roger Penrose of Britain, Reinhard Genzel of Germany and Andrea Ghez of the United States, were awarded the Nobel Physics Prize for their research into black holes, dubbed by the Novel committee "one of the most exotic phenomena in the universe". For more information visit UK Research and Innovation.
What is a black hole? Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 499.1 (2020): 482.
The observations also showed the destroyed star had about the same mass as our Sun.