Black Hole Devours Star and Hurls Energy Across 3.8 Billion Light Years

by Tammy Plotner on June 17, 2011

What University of Warwick researchers think the star may have looked like at the start of its disruption by a black hole at the center of a galaxy 3.8 billion light years distant resulting in the outburst known as Sw 1644+57. Credit: University of Warwick / Mark A. Garlick

Engaging the Hubble Space Telescope, Swift satellite and the Chandra X-ray Observatory, astronomers at the University of Warwick were quick to pick up a signal from Swift’s Burst Alert Telescope on March 28, 2011. In a classic line from Easy Rider, Jack Nicholson says: “It’s a UFO beaming back at you.” But this time it isn’t a UFO… it’s the death scream of a star being consumed by a black hole. The alert was just the beginning of a series of x-ray blasts that turned out to be the largest and most luminous event so far recorded in a distant galaxy.

Originating 3.8 billion light years from Earth in the direction of the constellation of Draco, the beam consisting of high energy X-rays and gamma-rays remained brilliant for a period of weeks after the initial event. As more and more material from the doomed star crossed over the event horizon, bright flares erupted signaling its demise. Says Dr. Andrew Levan, lead researcher on the paper from the University of Warwick; “Despite the power of this the cataclysmic event we still only happen to see this event because our solar system happened to be looking right down the barrel of this jet of energy”.

Dr Andrew Levan is a researcher at the University of Warwick.

Dr. Levan’s findings were published today in the Journal Science in a paper entitled “An Extremely Luminous Panchromatic Outburst from the Nucleus of a Distant Galaxy”. His findings leave no doubt as to the origin of the event and it has been cataloged as Sw 1644+57.

“The only explanation that so far fits the size, intensity, time scale, and level of fluctuation of the observed event, is that a massive black at the very centre of that galaxy has pulled in a large star and ripped it apart by tidal disruption.” says Levan. “The spinning black hole then created the two jets one of which pointed straight to Earth.”

And straight into our eager eyes…

Original Story Source: Eurekalert.

About 

Tammy is a professional astronomy author, President Emeritus of Warren Rupp Observatory and retired Astronomical League Executive Secretary. She’s received a vast number of astronomy achievement and observing awards, including the Great Lakes Astronomy Achievement Award, RG Wright Service Award and the first woman astronomer to achieve Comet Hunter's Gold Status.

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