A stunning new animation released by NASA today reveals the ‘death spiral’ of a star as it plummets into a black hole.
Observations revealed a bizarre pattern in the energy of a ‘tidal disruption flare’ in a distant galaxy, suggesting the black hole at its center suddenly encountered an ‘unlucky star full of matter,’ and is now ‘choking’ on the infalling debris.
The new animation shows how the debris from the star collides with itself, causing fluctuations in ultraviolet and optical light, as well as X-ray emissions.
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A stunning new animation released by NASA today reveals the ‘death spiral’ of a star as it plummets into a black hole. Observations revealed a bizarre pattern in the energy of a ‘tidal disruption flare’ in a distant galaxy, suggesting the black hole is ‘choking’
WHY IT’S ‘CHOKING’
To explain the unusual patterns, the scientists proposed a scenario:
When the star moved too close to the black hole, it was destroyed, pulling the debris in.
But, as it swirled closer, it collided with itself, producing bursts of optical and UV lights.
This colliding debris heated up as it was pulled in further, producing X-ray flares in the same pattern.
Then, the debris fell into the black hole.
The researchers created a model of the black hole’s accretion disc, along with its probable speed, radius, and rate of infall.
Based on this, they determined that the optical and UV bursts stemmed from the collision of debris on the outer perimeter, while the X-ray bursts originated closer to the black hole.
The flare investigated in the study by researchers from MIT and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center was first discovered in November, 2014.
Tidal disruption flares are bursts of electromagnetic activity that happen when a black hole destroys a nearby star.
But, this particular flare was found to emit a strange pattern of energy.
‘We discovered brightness changes in X-rays that occurred about a month after similar changes were observed in visible and UV light,’ said Dheeraj Pasham, an astrophysicist at MIT.
‘We think this means the optical and UV emission arose far from the black hole, where elliptical streams of orbiting matter crashed into each other.’
Simulations of the event suggested that these ‘echoes’ occurred as a result of a sudden encounter with a star.
In the new animation, scientists plotted how and where these different wavelengths were produced.
Dubbed ASASSN-14li, the event is thought to have been produced when a sun-like star approached the 3-million-solar-mass black hole.
The tidal forces convert the star into a stream of debris, which collects into a spinning accretion disk before eventually being sucked into the event horizon, from which it cannot escape.
But, in an event like this, the debris overshoots its fall, arcing back out and colliding with the incoming stream, according to NASA.
‘Returning clumps of debris strike the incoming stream, which results in shock waves that emit visible and ultraviolet light,’ said Goddard’s Bradley Cenko, the acting Swift principal investigator and a member of the science team.
‘As these clumps fall down to the black hole, they also modulate the X-ray emission there.’
The phenomenon was spotted by a global network of robotic telescopes known as the All Sky automated Survey for SuperNovae (ASASSN), and other telescopes later joined in on the observation.
This includes the X-ray telescope on NASA’s Swift satellite.
Observations with two different telescopes have revealed a bizarre pattern in the energy of a ‘tidal disruption flare’ in the distant galaxy, which occurs when a black hole devours a nearby star. An artist’s impression is pictured
SUPERMASSIVE BLACK HOLES: THEORIES ON THEIR BIRTH
There are two main theories to explain the formation of supermassive black holes in the early universe.
One assumes the seeds grow out of black holes with a mass about ten to a hundred times greater than our sun, after the collapse of a massive star.
The black hole seeds then grew through mergers with other small black holes and by pulling in gas from their surroundings.
But, they would have to grow at an unusually high rate to reach the mass of supermassive black holes already discovered in the billion years young universe.
A separate study came out recently, in support of the a scenario .
This theory suggests at least some very massive black hole seeds with 100,000 times the mass of the sun formed directly when a massive cloud of gas collapses.
In this case the growth of the black holes would be jump started, and would proceed more quickly.
The researcher say that, as the debris swirled closer, it collided with itself, producing bursts of optical and UV lights.
The debris heated up as it was pulled in further, producing X-ray flares in the same pattern.
Then, the debris fell into the black hole.
‘In essence, this black hole has not had much to feed on for a while, and suddenly along comes an unlucky star full of matter,’ said Pasham, first author on the study.
‘What we’re seeing is, this stellar material is not just continuously being fed onto the black hole, but it’s interacting with itself – stopping and going, stopping and going.
‘This is telling us that the black hole is ‘choking’ on this sudden supply of stellar debris.