Astronomers capture a black hole shredding star into spaghetti strands

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  • Astronomers at the European Southern Observatory observed a black hole sucking in a faraway star, shredding it into thin strands of stellar material.
  • This process, known as “spaghettification,” happens because of black holes’ powerful gravitational force.
  • At 215 million light-years away, this spaghettification process is the closest ever observed by astronomers. 
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Astronomers have captured a rarely-seen event: a flare of light caused by a black hole devouring a nearby star like spaghetti.

Observed in the Eridanus constellation, about 215 million light-years away from Earth, the star’s destruction is the closest such event astronomers have ever observed. 

“When an unlucky star wanders too close to a supermassive black hole in the center of a galaxy, the extreme gravitational pull of the black hole shreds the star into thin streams of material,” study author Thomas Wevers, a fellow at the European Southern Observatory in Santiago, Chile, said in a press release about the discovery.

This process is called a tidal disruption event – or, more colloquially, “spaghettification,” a nod to the long, thin strands a star becomes as the black hole’s gravity stretches it thinner and thinner. 

When these strands get sucked into the black hole, they release a powerful flare of energy that astronomers can detect, even from hundreds of millions of light-years away. 

spaghettification

A screenshot taken from a video zooming in on the AT2019qiz tidal disruption event, 215 million light-years away. This phenomenon, a blast of light from a star being ripped apart by a supermassive black hole, has been studied by ESO telescopes.

N. Risinger/ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2


The researchers studied the dying star over a six-month period, using tools including ESO’s Very Large Telescope and its New Technology Telescope, and published their findings in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.