Front-Row Seats to Star's Death by Spaghettification

Pablo Tucker
October 15, 2020

Astronomers witnessed the "spaghettification" of a star being devoured and ripped apart by a black hole.

Scientists have spotted a rare burst of light from a star falling into a supermassive black hole.

Death by spaghettification might sound like you've gone to your grave after eating too much pasta, but the term is used in astronomy to describe how an unfortunate star appears when it wanders too close to the enormous gravitational pull of a monstrous black hole and is torn apart.

The new TDE, first spotted in September of a year ago and named AT2019qiz, is now helping a team led by astronomer Matt Nicholl of the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom shed light on the origin of this dust. Spaghettification is the process of star being ripped apart as it falls into an supermassive black hole. And precisely when the colossal flare erupted during TDE, astronomers responded with dizzying speed, pointing to a wide range of telescopes in the constellation Eridanus. Almost half of the star's material was consumed by the black hole, while the remaining half was ejected at speeds of nearly 10,000 kilometers per second.

"The observations showed that the star had roughly the same mass as our own Sun, and that it lost about half of that to the monster black hole, which is over a million times more massive", says says Matt Nicholl, a lecturer and Royal Astronomical Society research fellow at the University of Birmingham, UK, and the lead author of the new study.


In any case, that flare of light is frequently in any event incompletely darkened by a dust storm, which makes studying the better subtleties troublesome.

Using the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope and New Technology Telescope, the Las Cumbres Observatory global telescope network, and the Neil Gehrel's Swift Satellite, the team was able to monitor the flare, named AT2019qiz, over a six-month period as it grew brighter and then faded away.

"We found that, when a black hole devours a star, it can launch a powerful blast of material outwards that obstructs our view", said astronomer Samantha Oates of the University of Birmingham in the UK. "This unique "peek behind the curtain" provided the first opportunity to pinpoint the origin of the obscuring material and follow in real time how it engulfs the black hole". "An outflow powers the optical rise of the nearby, fast-evolving tidal disruption event AT2019qiz".

The researchers hope that this observation can help them interpret what's going on in future observations of these tidal disruption events.

This explains previous light and radio emissions that astronomers, studying black holes over the years, have been left somewhat unexplained and little understood.


"A few sky reviews found outflow from the new flowing interruption event rapidly after the star was torn separated", said space expert Thomas Wevers, who was at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom during the exploration.

As of recently, the idea of these emissions has been vigorously discussed, yet here we see that the two systems are associated through a solitary cycle.

"This event is teaching us about the detailed physical processes of accretion and mass ejection from supermassive black holes", said astronomer Edo Berger of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Read Telescopes Record Last Moments of Star Devoured by a Black Hole for more on this story.

The glow itself is the result of the almost inexplicable forces of gravity and friction within the filaments of the cosmic event, which consist of matter from the star.


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