Researchers at UC Santa Cruz witness a black hole devouring a star

Researchers at UC Santa Cruz witness a black hole devouring a star

Researchers at UC Santa Cruz witness a black hole devouring a star

One of the most fascinating objects in space just got even more immersive and mysterious.

An international team led by researchers from University of California, Santa CruzUniversity of Copenhagen and Washington State University’s Niels Bohr Institute witnessed a black hole devouring a lone star, “shredding” it and creating a distinct, luminous glow, UC Santa Cruz’s Nov. 10 press release said.

The brutal party, or “tidal disturbance,” was captured in a dwarf galaxy 850 million light-years away by the Young Supernova Experiment (YSE), a study that tracks cosmic explosions and “astrophysical transients”: extreme, destructive events in the dark reaches of space.

In the press release, university staff broke it down into simpler terms, explaining that “a medium-mass black hole lurking undetected in a dwarf galaxy revealed itself to astronomers when it swallowed an unlucky star that strayed too close.” Black holes are so hard to detect that telescopes that pick up X-rays or light can’t even catch them, according to NASA. However, photos first taken in 2019 shows that they appear to be dark objects surrounded by hot, glowing matter.



“We’re in what I call the era of celestial cinematography,” Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz, a UC Santa Cruz professor who studies the “violent universe,” said in a phone call with SFGATE. While YSE has helped capture hundreds if not thousands of supernovae, he said, it was a pleasant surprise to encounter a medium-sized black hole consuming a star.

“We haven’t really found a lot of these smaller black holes, these elusive medium-mass black holes,” he said.

“This was something we didn’t expect,” laughed Ramirez-Ruiz.

Researchers at UC Santa Cruz witness a black hole devouring a star

A rendering of an unlucky star stumbling into the path of a black hole.

University of California Santa Cruz/Lick Observatory

These “exciting and unusual” disruptions are rare, he added. Researchers would have to survey 100,000 galaxies to see just one a year. However, discovering them is important because they could elucidate some of astronomy’s most pressing questions, namely how supermassive black holes are created at the centers of large galaxies, Ramirez-Ruiz said. Even our own Milky Way galaxy has one of these behemoths at its core, according to NASA.

Indeed, 2022 was quite a year for black holes.

In June, researchers at UC Berkeley collected possible evidence of a ghostly “free-floating” black hole floating in space. Considered “one of the most exotic phenomena in astrophysics,” these objects have rightfully captured the hearts of researchers across California.

Ramirez-Ruiz says YSE will continue monitoring galaxies for more cosmic events.



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