Massive black hole devours star, emitting high-energy plasma beam

A team of researchers from Johns Hopkins has discovered an enormous black hole that began giving off a high-powered plasma beam after consuming an entire star.

Astronomers have seen black holes do some pretty crazy things, but a recent discovery by researchers at the Johns Hopkins University may just be the one to take the cake. According to a report from Engadget, the study has located a black hole that emitted a massive hot flare of matter after it consumed a star roughly the same size as our own sun.

The Hopkins researchers, who worked with scientists from the University of Oxford, used data gathered by the Hubble telescope to pinpoint the stellar event. Hubble fellow Sjoert van Velzen followed up on a discovery by researchers from Ohio State University last year that had located the star before it was devoured. Researchers knew that it would only be a matter of time before the black hole engulfed the star and sent a stream of hot plasma shooting into space.

The event took place 300 million light years from our solar system, and was named ASASSN-14li by the researchers. The astronomers calculated that this “tidal disruption” caused by the black hole consuming the star was likely to happen at any moment.

This is the first time scientists have observed a tidal disruption event as it happened. The team set their sights on the right place at the right time to witness the rapid burst of energy into space. Not even light energy can escape the gravitational pull of a black hole, so researchers had a very short window of time to catch the event in progress.

The team of researchers observed the event over the course of multiple months. They recorded period spurts of energy at various wavelengths, which have led them to believe that an initial massive burst of energy preceded these secondary bursts.

The tidal disruption event may be the last observable light that researchers have detected from a black hole system. If they had waited any longer, they might not have been able to say for sure that the burst actually happened.

A press release from the Johns Hopkins University describing the details of the study can be found here.

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