Scientists Observe Black Hole Swallow a Star for the First Time

Massive black hole in space pulls a star to its death.

For the first time in history, a team of astrophysicists have watched a star being swallowed up by a massive black hole in space, and the resulting ejection of a flare moving at the speed of light, according to a story on phys.org.

The team, led by a scientist from John Hopkins University, reported the findings in the journal Science on Thursday.  The star, about the size of our own Sun, shifted from its orbit once trapped in the gravitational pull of the black hole, an area of space that is so dense, nothing can escape its pull, even light.

Sjoert van Velzen, a Hubble fellow at Johns Hopkins said these types of events are extremely rare, and it was the first time we have been able to see the entire event unfold, from the destruction of the star, to the launch of the outflow, called a jet.  He added the team observed the event over a period of several months.

Previously, astrophysicists had predicted that when a large amount of gas is pulled into a black hole, a fast-moving plasma jet could escape from the rim of the black hold, an area known as the event horizon.  The researchers suggest the study has proven that theory to be correct.

Van Velzen led the analysis and coordinated the efforts of 13 other scientists in the United States, the Netherlands, Great Britain and Australia, after hearing about the observation of the star at Ohio State University in 2014.

After contacting other members of the team, they used radio telescopes to make the observations and just made it in time.  By the time it was over, the team had used data from satellites and telescopes that gather X-ray, radio and optical signals, all of which provided a stunning mulit-wavelength portrait of the event, according to the team.

The observations were made from a galaxy that is about 300 million light years from the Earth.

Van Velzen adds the destruction of a star by a black hole is beautifully complicated, but far from being completely understood and he hopes the valuable input from their observations can help construct a theory of the events.

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