For the first time, astronomers have imaged the particle jet released by a supermassive black hole as it was gorging on a star in a distant galaxy.
The paper, published in the journal Science on Thursday, June 14, details how a black hole found at the heart of one of two colliding galaxies (dubbed the Arp 299) pulled a closely wandering star, then ripped into it violently.
In addition, because of the dust, which absorbs any visible light, this event may only be the tip of the iceberg, with the possibility of new discoveries. The black hole is about 20 million times more massive than the Sun and is now shredding a star over two times as massive as the Sun, that was unfortunate enough to drift too close to the gargantuan monster.
Another scientist, Clive Tadhunter from the University of Sheffield, told Gizmodo that "the association of a jet with a particular type of accretion event - the tidal disruption of a star - could potentially improve our understanding of jet formation in general", regardless of what formed the jet.
The scientists triangulated their observations over the course of a decade using far-flung radio telescope antennas and other observational tools such as the Very Long Baseline Array of the National Science Foundation, the European VLBI Network, the Nordic Optical Telescope in the Canary Islands, the William Herschel Telescope and the Spitzer space telescope run by NASA.
Scientists believe tidal disruption events are common throughout the universe, but much of the energy is obscured by clouds of dust and gas around back holes.
But now astronomers - using radio and infrared telescopes, which see in wavelengths invisible to the human eye - have observed a TDE in action, where some of the material is ejected out into space from the poles of the disk. They have also theorised that after the star is obliterated, its material forms a rotating disk around the black hole and launches jets outward at almost the speed of light.
Known as a tidal disruption event, this extremely violent occurrence was observed only a few times and has been showed to produce powerful emissions of X-rays and visible, infrared and ultraviolet light in computer simulations, the Inquisitr previously reported.
Residing in most of the galaxies, supermassive black holes stay quiet more often than not. The observation will help astronomers understand these events, as well as the environments in which galaxies developed. This new object originally was considered to be a supernova explosion.
The pair led a team of 36 scientists from 26 institutions from across the world in the observations of Arp 299. Six years later, the researchers realized that the emission was becoming elongated, which ruled out a supernova.