That stretches the object right out like spaghetti - hence the nickname "spaghettification", although it's more scientifically known as a tidal disruption event (TDE). The process of the burst of light from a star falling into the supermassive black hole is known as 'spaghettification.' And one such event has been recorded. The new TDE, first seen in September of a year ago and named AT2019qiz, is now helping a group drove by stargazer Matt Nicholl of the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom shed light on the source of this residue. As some of the thin strands of stellar material fall into the black hole, a bright flare of energy is released.
Using ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) and New Technology Telescope (NTT), the Las Cumbres Observatory global telescope network, and NASA's Neil Gehrel Swift Observatory, an worldwide team of astronomers was able to monitor the flare from a tidal disruption event over a six-month period.
Over a period of time, the black hole tears the star in shreds.
But that flare of light is often at least partially obscured by a cloud of dust, which makes studying the finer details hard.
"We found that, when a black hole devours a star, it can launch a powerful blast of material outward that obstructs our view", said Samantha Oates, who participated in the study. This is the thing that occurred with AT2019qiz, and astronomers rushed to turn their telescopes to a little fix of sky in the constellation of Eridanus, and the core of a winding galaxy 215 million light-years away.
"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", says Kate Alexander, an author of the study. Through this recent TDE, we are starting to see how black holes can destroy stars and seed the galaxy with new material at the same time. "This happens because the energy released as the black hole eats up stellar material propels the star's debris outwards".
A similar TDE seen at radio wavelengths. Credit Mattila Perez-Torres et al. Bill Saxton NRAO AUI NSF
"A few sky reviews found outflow from the new flowing interruption event rapidly after the star was torn separated", said space expert Thomas Wevers, who was at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom during the exploration.
The astronomers are now hopeful their observations will help future studies better understand how tidal disruptions work, as well as how matter behaves in the extreme gravitational environment of a black hole.
The phenomenon we call "spaghettification" here is formally called a tidal disruption event. "This is the first case in which we see direct evidence for outflowing gas during the disruption and accretion process that explains both the optical and radio emissions we've seen in the past", said astronomer Edo Berger of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
"AT2019qiz is the nearest tidal disruption event discovered to date, and hence, incredibly well-observed across the electromagnetic spectrum".
Supermassive black holes teach us, wrote Princeton's great quantum physicist, John Archibald Wheeler in his autobiography, Geons, Black Holes & Quantum Foam, "that space can be crumpled like a piece of paper into an infinitesimal dot, that time can be extinguished like a blown-out flame, and that the laws of physics that we regard as 'sacred, ' as immutable, are anything but".