A Black Hole is Savoring its Meal, Feeding on the Same Star Over and Over Again

This illustration shows a glowing stream of material from a star, being devoured and torn to shreds by a supermassive black hole. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Something extraordinary happens about every 10,000 to 100,000 years in galaxies like the Milky Way. An unwary star approaches the supermassive black hole (SMBH) at the galaxy’s center and is torn apart by the SMBH’s overpowering gravity. Astronomers call the phenomenon a tidal disruption event (TDE.)

Usually, a TDE spells doom for the star as its gas is torn away into the black hole’s accretion ring, causing a bright flaring visible for hundreds of millions of light years. But researchers have found one black hole that’s playing with its food.

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What Does it Take to Make Black Holes Collide?

Simulation of the emitted light from a supermassive black hole binary system. (Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center)

In a recent study published in Astronomy and Astrophysical Letters, a team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) used various computer models to examine 69 confirmed binary black holes to help determine their origin, and found their data results changed based on the model’s configurations, and the researchers wish to better understand both how and why this occurs and what steps can be taken to have more consistent results.

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Webb’s New Image Reveals a Galaxy Awash in Star Formation

This JWST image shows NGC 7469, a luminous, face-on spiral galaxy approximately 90 000 light-years in diameter that lies roughly 220 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Pegasus. Image Credit: ESA/Webb, NASA & CSA, L. Armus, A. S. Evans

When a spiral galaxy presents itself just right, observations reveal more detail. That’s the case with NGC 7469, a spiral galaxy about 220 million light-years away. It’s face-on towards us, and the James Webb Space Telescope captured its revealing scientific portrait.

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A Star Came too Close to a Black Hole. It Didn’t End Well

A disk of hot gas swirls around a black hole in this illustration. The stream of gas stretching to the right is what remains of a star that was pulled apart by the black hole. A cloud of hot plasma (gas atoms with their electrons stripped away) above the black hole is known as a corona. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Black holes are confounding objects that stretch physics to its limits. The most massive ones lurk in the centers of large galaxies like ours. They dominate the galactic center, and when a star gets too close, the black hole’s powerful gravitational force tears the star apart as they feed on it. Not even the most massive stars can resist.

But supermassive black holes (SMBHs) didn’t start out that massive. They attained their gargantuan mass by accreting material over vast spans of time and by merging with other black holes.

There are large voids in our understanding of how SMBHs grow and evolve, and one way astrophysicists fill those voids is by watching black holes as they consume stars.

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Black Holes Shouldn’t be Able to Merge, but Dozens of Mergers Have Been Detected. How Do They Do It?

black holes in a globular cluster
This is an artist’s impression created to visualize the concentration of black holes at the center of globular cluster NGC 6397. Credit: ESA/Hubble, N. Bartmann

Who knows what lurks in the hearts of some globular clusters? Astronomers using a collection of gravitational wave observatories found evidence of collections of smaller black holes dancing together as binaries in the hearts of globulars. What’s more, they’ve detected an increased number of gravitational wave events when some of these stellar-mass black holes crashed together.

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A Black Hole has been Burping for 100 Million Years

Artist view of an active supermassive black hole. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada

Black holes are gluttonous behemoths that lurk in the center of galaxies. Almost everybody knows that nothing can escape them, not even light. So when anything made of simple matter gets too close, whether a planet, a star or a gas cloud, it’s doomed.

But the black hole doesn’t eat it at once. It plays with its food like a fussy kid. Sometimes, it spews out light.

When the black hole is not only at the center of a galaxy but the center of a cluster of galaxies, these burps and jets carve massive cavities out of the hot gas at the center of the cluster called radio bubbles.

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A Black Hole Consumed a Star and Released the Light of a Trillion Suns

A star is being consumed by a distant supermassive black hole. Astronomers call this a tidal disruption event (TDE). As the black hole rips apart the star, two jets of material moving with almost the speed of light are launched in opposite directions. One of the jets was aimed directly at Earth. Image credit: Carl Knox (OzGrav, ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery, Swinburne University of Technology)

When a flash of light appears somewhere in the sky, astronomers notice. When it appears in a region of the sky not known to host a stellar object that’s flashed before, they really sit up and take notice. In astronomical parlance, objects that emit flashing light are called transients.

Earlier this year, astronomers spotted a transient that flashed with the light of a trillion Suns.

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The Second-Closest Supermassive Black Hole Might be in a Nearby Dwarf Galaxy

Leo 1 dwarf spheroidal galaxy has a supermassive black hole
Leo I appears as a faint patch to the right of the bright star, Regulus. Astronomers say it appears to have a supermassive black hole Credit: Scott Anttila Anttler

There’s a little galaxy in the Milky Way’s cosmic neighborhood called Leo 1. It’s a dwarf spheroidal that lies less than a million light-years away from us. Surprisingly, it has a supermassive black hole about the same mass as Sagittarius A* in our galaxy. That’s unusual in several ways, and astronomers want to know more about it.

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When Black Holes Collide They Also Produce Neutrinos

Still image from a numerical simulation of an unequal mass binary black hole merger, with parameters consistent with GW190412. [Image credit: N. Fischer, H. Pfeiffer, A. Buonanno (Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics), Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes project]

Ever since astronomers first detected ultra high energy neutrinos coming from random directions in space, they have not been able to figure out what generates them. But a new hypothesis suggests an unlikely source: the mergers of black holes.

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