Astrophysicists have for the first time witnessed a star being swallowed by a black hole, ejecting a flare of matter moving at nearly the speed of light.
The finding of the team led by a Johns Hopkins University scientist tracks the star, about the size of our sun, as it shifts from its customary path, slips into the gravitational pull of a supermassive black hole and is sucked in, said researcher Sjoert van Velzen.
These events are extremely rare, van Velzen said, adding that it’s the first time they see everything from the stellar destruction followed by the launch of a conical outflow, also called a jet, and they watched it unfold over several months.
Black holes are areas of space so dense that irresistible gravitational force stops the escape of matter, gas and even light, rendering them invisible and creating the effect of a void in the fabric of space.
Astrophysicists had predicted that when a black hole is force-fed a large amount of gas, in this case a whole star, then a fast-moving jet of plasma – elementary particles in a magnetic field – can escape from near the black hole rim, or “event horizon.” This study suggests this prediction was correct, the scientists said.
The study is reported in the journal Science.