Researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz witness a star being swallowed by a black hole

Researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz witness a star being swallowed by a black hole

One of the best charming objects in space just got even more fascinating and mysterious.

An international team led by researchers from University of California, Santa CruzThe Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen and Washington State University witnessed a black hole engulfing a lone star, “shattering” it, causing a distinct light burst, UC Santa Cruz Nov. 10. news release said.

The brutal feast, or “tidal disruption event,” was captured in a dwarf galaxy 850 million light-years from A young supernova experiment (YSE), a survey that tracks cosmic explosions and “astrophysical transients”: extreme, disruptive events in the dark corners of space.

In the news release, university staff broke it down in simpler terms, explaining that “an intermediate-mass black hole lurking undetected in a dwarf galaxy revealed itself to astronomers when it swallowed an unfortunate star that strayed too close.” Black holes are so hard to detect that telescopes that pick up X-rays or light can’t even pick them up, according to NASA. However, photos taken for the first time in 2019 shows that they look like 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 to SFGATE. Although YSE has helped capture hundreds, if not thousands, of supernovae, he said, stumbling upon a medium-sized black hole absorbing a star was a pleasant surprise.

“We really haven’t found many of these lower-mass black holes, these elusive intermediate-mass black holes,” he said.

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

Representation of an unfortunate star stumbling into the path of a black hole.

University of California Santa Cruz/Observatory Lic

These “exciting and unusual” disruptions are rare, he added. Researchers would have to survey 100,000 galaxies to see just one a year. Their discovery is important, however, because they could shed light on some of astronomy’s most pressing questions — namely, how supermassive black holes are made at the center of large galaxies, Ramírez-Ruiz said. Even our own Milky Way galaxy has one of these monsters at its core, according to NASA.

Indeed, 2022 was quite a year for black holes.

In June, UC Berkeley researchers gathered potential evidence of a ghost-like “free-floating” black hole floating in space. Considered “one of the most exotic phenomena in astrophysics,” these objects have rightly captured the hearts of researchers from across California.

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

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