Astronomers Witness Black Hole Devouring Star

Published: May 4, 2012

Witness the sequel to ‘A Star is Born’.

Have you ever wanted to see what it looks like when a massive black hole decides to snuff out an orbiting star? Well, thanks to NASA and a clutch of astronomers (and an animator or two), your dreams of intergalactic destruction can now be fulfilled. Using both a powerful, land-based telescope and one from an orbiting satellite, researchers were able to witness the swallowing of an aging star by a black hole in a galaxy some 2.7 billion lightyears away. That black hole is about the size of the one at the centre of the Milky Way that keeps our galaxy in a perpetual orbit around the unfathomably large vacuum. In this instance, the two telescopes observed changes in light emitted by the far-off star between 2009 and 2010. The star’s orbit apparently got too close to the black hole, which then began to tear the star apart, simultaneously drawing in the materials – mostly helium – that made up the star and casting more helium far, far away. The result is the release of ultraviolet light some 350 times brighter than the star had shone before it met its beautiful demise. Such events occur only about once every 100,000 years per galaxy, but now that astronomers are keeping their eyes on some 100,000 galaxies, we can expect similar such videos once a year.