Thursday, August 25, 2011

"Astronomers report seeing supermassive black hole swallowing star"

For the first time, astronomers say they've borne witness to a supermassive black hole consuming a star.

Two papers released Wednesday by the journal Nature describe powerful blasts of radiation whose brightness and behavior can be explained only by a sun-sized star being torn apart by the gravitational forces of a black hole at the center of its galaxy, the authors say.

Scientists believe they have seen the aftermath of such stellar violence before, in the form of fading glows emanating from distant galaxies, in whose centers supermassive black holes usually reside. But they had never caught one in the act.

"This was the first time we saw one of these big black holes going from quiet and silent to very loud and noisy, producing a lot of light and radiation," said Davide Lazzati, an astrophysicist at North Carolina State University who was not involved in the study.

Shown above is an artist’s rendering of a burst of radiation released as a supermassive black hole consumes a star.

(Aurore Simonnet / Sonoma State University / August 25, 2011)

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