Star torn apart by supermassive black hole a million times bigger

A supermassive black hole ripped apart a star in a staggering "tidal disruption event".

The star was orbiting in a galaxy called 2MASX J04463790-1013349 in space 214 million light years away.

It is the closest such event recorded to date, and was observed using telescopes from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile.

Matt Nicholl, a lecturer and Royal Astronomical Society research fellow at the University of Birmingham, said: “The idea of a black hole ‘sucking in’ a nearby star sounds like science fiction.

“But this is exactly what happens in a tidal disruption event.”

During the event, the star experiences a process known as a spaghettification – where objects are compressed into long, thin shapes.

When strands of the star’s material fall into the black hole, they release a bright flare.

Light from the phenomenon reached Earth last year, but it was obstructed by dust and debris, Live Science reports.

Kate Alexander, NASA Einstein Fellow at Northwestern University in the US, explained: “Because we caught it early, we could actually see the curtain of dust and debris being drawn up as the black hole launched a powerful outflow of material with velocities up to 10,000 km/s.

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“This unique ‘peek behind the curtain' provided the first opportunity to pinpoint the origin of the obscuring material and follow in real time how it engulfs the black hole.”

The star in question had roughly the same mass as our Sun.

However, it “lost about half of that to the master black hole” which was a million times larger, Nicholl said.

The scientists believe the event could help us better understand supermassive black holes and how matter behaves around them.

The full paper was published on October 12 in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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