Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Supermassive black hole devours giant star




Supermassive black hole devours giant star

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
An illustration depicting a star experiencing spaghettification as it’s sucked in by a black hole. EUROPEAN SOUTHERN OBSERVATORY/AFP

Supermassive black hole devours giant star

Astronomers have captured the moment a supermassive black hole shredded a star the size of our Sun, releasing images Monday showing the devastating process in unprecedented detail.

Using telescopes from the European Southern Observatory (ESO), they 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 from Earth.

They observed the star being physically torn apart as it was sucked into the black hole’s giant maw.

“The idea of a black hole ‘sucking in’ a nearby star sounds like science fiction,” said Matt Nicholl, a lecturer and Royal Astronomical Society research fellow at the University of Birmingham, lead author of Monday’s study.

“But that’s exactly what happens in a tidal disruption event.”

When a star strays too close to a supermassive black hole, it is subjected to the great 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,” Stephane Basa, a researcher from the Marseille Astrophysics Laboratory, told AFP.

“This exceptional influx of matter produces intense electromagnetic emissions, which last for several months while the debris is digested.”

Basa said that around half of the star remained after the tidal disruption event.

“‘Only’ half of its mass has disappeared,” he said.

“That’s already titanic.”

‘A monster’

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.

Using high powered telescopes, they observed the event as the light flare grew in luminosity then gradually faded – a process of some six months.

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.”

The team behind the study, published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, said they hoped it would help scientists to better understand how matter behaves in the extreme gravity environments surrounding supermassive black holes.

Last week a trio of scientists, Roger Penrose of Britain, Reinhard Genzel of Germany and Andrea Ghez of the US, 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.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Hun Sen says Kingdom not a 'satellite country'

    Prime Minister Hun Sen said Cambodia had sent diplomatic notes to various embassies demonstrating its stance and clarifying allegations that the Kingdom is a satellite country of China which will allow it exclusive access to the Ream Naval Base in Preah Sihanouk province. The response

  • Vast Prince Manor fun park opens to much fanfare in Kandal

    Chinese-owned Prince Culture and Development Co Ltd officially launched the $85 million Prince Manor entertainment centre in Kandal province on Wednesday. Prince Manor is located along National Road 1, 20km from the centre of Phnom Penh. It is the first major theme park project in Cambodia and

  • Angkor provides ‘valuable’ water storage

    The Apsara National Authority (ANA) has stored millions of cubic metres of water at reservoirs in the Angkor area after Cambodia experienced a series of rainstorms over the last few days. The storing of the water, besides serving temple conservation, will also be used to

  • Floods prompt evacuations in Kampong Speu

    Rain-induced floods and water flowing from Kampong Speu province have submerged the houses of 1,527 families living close to the Prek Thnot River in Spean Thma, Tien, Kong Noy and Roluos communes in Phnom Penh’s Dangkor district, according to data from local authorities. Spean Thma

  • Serving coffee with a side of robots

    The eye-catching glass building surrounded by greenery at the intersection of Streets 371 and 2002 in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district is more than just another coffee shop where you can while away a few hours. UrHobby House cafe is filled with robots and characters from

  • Banteay Meanchey floods kill one more as death toll reaches 15

    As floodwaters start to recede in Pursat, Battambang and Pailin provinces and Phnom Penh, Banteay Meanchey continues to bear the brunt as one more person was killed on Monday, bringing the total number of flood-related deaths to 15 in the province this month. Banteay Meanchey provincial