Scientists have witnessed a massive black hole swallowing up and ripping apart a star. A powerful beam of energy that had crossed 3.8billion light years of space was the last gasp of the ill-fated star. The bright flash of gamma rays was detected by the Swift satellite within the constellation of Draco.
Observations led by astronomers at the University of Warwick have shown that the flash from one of the biggest and brightest bangs yet recorded by astronomers comes from a massive black hole at the centre of a distant galaxy. The black hole appears to have ripped apart a star that wandered too close, creating a powerful beam of energy that crossed the 3.8 billion light years to Earth.
Their research is published today in the Journal Science in a paper entitled “An Extremely Luminous Panchromatic Outburst from the Nucleus of a Distant Galaxy”
The high energy X-rays and gamma-rays persisted at an extremely bright level for weeks after the event, with bright flares arising when further chunks of the star fell into the black hole. The extreme brightness of this event comes from the fact that it illuminated only a small fraction of the sky, pointing a jet of light towards the Milky Way, which was detected at Earth 3.8 billion years after the star was ripped apart.
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”.
The new research paper clearly establishes that the source of this event – (known now as Sw 1644+57) is right at the heart of far away galaxy, 3.8 billion light years away, at a spot which would be in the constellation Draco.
University of Warwick researcher Dr Andrew Levan said:
“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. The spinning black hole then created the two jets one of which pointed straight to earth.”