Years of Data Appears to Show Black Hole Eating a Star

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Credit: Sophia Dagnello, NRAO/AUI/NSF; NASA, STScI.

The black hole is 20 million times the size of Earth's star, the sun. Instead, these objects can have millions or, in some extreme cases, billions of solar masses.

The team suspects that black holes "eating" passing stars may be a common occurrence even if we can't see it too often. Our own galaxy, the Milky Way, is no exception.

Another scientist, Clive Tadhunter from the University of Sheffield, told Gizmodo that "the association of a jet with a particular type of accretion event - the tidal disruption of a star - could potentially improve our understanding of jet formation in general", regardless of what formed the jet.

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The worldwide team of astronomers, under Professors Sepo Mattila, of the University of Turku and Michel Perez-Torres, of the Astrophysical Institute of Andalusia, published the findings from the discovery of the distant explosion caused by the destruction of a star from an oversized black hole, scientific journal Science.

Astronomers have been tracking this event since January 2005 using the William Herschel Telescope in the Canary Islands where they first noticed a bright burst of infrared (IR) emissions coming from within the Arp 299. On July 17, 2005, the National Science Foundation's Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) revealed a new, distinct source of radio emission from the same location.

Mattila and Perez-Torres led a team of 36 scientists from 26 institutions around the world in the observations of Arp 299.

The researchers suggest that the star swirled around the black hole, emitting intense x-rays and visible light, when it was absorbed by the black hole, writes Mashable. Over time, the source of radio emission expanded in one direction and emitted a fast-moving jet of material.

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Over the years, the researchers noted the object in question remained bright in infrared and radio light, but not in x-ray or visible wavelength of the spectrum. If a star is too close to the black hole, its huge gravity pulls it towards it and rips the star. These observations eventually showed the presence of a unidirectional emission of matter, from the edge of the black hole, moving about 1/4 of the speed of light and thus confirming its relativistic jet nature.

"Never before have we been able to directly observe the formation and evolution of a jet from one of these events", said Miguel Perez-Torres, an astronomer at the Astrophysical Institute of Andalusia in Granada, Spain, and co-author of a new study detailing this impressive discovery, published yesterday in the journal Science.

Dr Rob Beswick, from the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics at The University of Manchester's School of Physics and Astronomy, and co-investigator of this project, said: "This is a fantastic discovery and an extremely important result in astronomy".

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