Astronomers Observe Star Being ‘Spaghettified’ by a Supermassive Black Hole

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Artist’s impression of a star undergoing spaghettification near a supermassive black hole.

Artist’s impression of a star undergoing spaghettification near a supermassive black hole.
Image: ESO

A star 215 million light-years away has been obliterated by a supermassive black hole, making it the closest observation to date of stellar spaghettification.

Spaghettification doesn’t sound very scientific, but it’s a fairly accurate description of what actually happens.

A doomed star caught in the orbit of a supermassive black hole will eventually hit a kind of gravitational sweet spot that turns everything to shit. No longer capable of keeping its physical integrity, the star begins to rapidly collapse in a process known as a fast-evolving tidal disruption event. When this happens, stellar debris bursts out from the star, forming a long, thin stream, half of which gets sucked toward the black hole; the other half is blown back into space. The thin stream eventually catches up to and slams into itself, releasing energy and forming an accretion disc. If that’s hard to visualize, here’s a video showing the process:

The destruction produces a bright flash of light, which astronomers can observe on Earth. A few of these events are captured each year, but new research published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society describes the nearest case of stellar spaghettification ever recorded, at 215 million light-years away. The event, designated AT2019qiz, was chronicled last year, and it appeared at the core of a spiral galaxy located in the Eridanus constellation. The unfortunate star was roughly the same size as our Sun, and it was torn apart by a supermassive black hole roughly 1 million times the Sun’s mass.

The event was initially captured by the Zwicky Transient Facility, with follow-up observations done with the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope, the ESO New Technology Telescope, and Harvard & Smithsonian’s MMT Observatory, among other


Astronomers see a black hole ‘spaghettify’ a star in real time

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Artist’s impression of star being tidally disrupted by a supermassive black hole.  

ESO/M. Kornmesser

It’s one of those astounding events that sounds like science fiction, but is just plain science. Astronomers say they were able to capture in unprecedented detail the process of a star being ripped into strips and devoured by a black hole. 

The powerful phenomenon caught the attention of scientists when a new blast of light near a known supermassive black hole was spotted by telescopes around the world. Months worth of follow-up observations made it clear they were seeing the destruction of a far-off sun as it happened.

“In this case the star was torn apart with about half of its mass feeding — or accreting — into a black hole of one million times the mass of the sun, and the other half was ejected outward,” explained astronomer Edo Berger from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, in a statement.  

The violent scene is what astronomers call a tidal disruption event, which happens when a star comes too close to a black hole and gets shredded through a process of spaghettification — basically, the gravity of the black hole is so intense that it stretches whatever comes near vertically into long, thin shapes like pieces of spaghetti as it swallows it all up. 

The event, which goes by the catalog entry AT2019qiz and is the closest such flare ever seen at just 215 million light-years away, was caught early enough that scientists have been able to get a relatively unobscured view of the cosmic carnage before a cloud of star guts pulls a veil over the region.



Black Hole Discoveries Win 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics | World News

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By Niklas Pollard and Douglas Busvine

STOCKHOLM/BERLIN (Reuters) – Three scientists who unravelled some of the deep mysteries of black holes, the awe-inspiring pockets of the universe where space and time cease to exist, have won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Britain’s Roger Penrose, professor at the University of Oxford, won half the prize of 10 million Swedish crowns ($1.1 million) for his proof that black holes are a direct consequence of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

“It was an extreme honour and great pleasure to hear the news this morning in a slightly unusual way – I had to get out of my shower to hear it,” Penrose told reporters from his home in Oxford on Tuesday.

German Reinhard Genzel, of the Max Planck Institute and University of California, Berkeley, and Andrea Ghez, at the University of California, Los Angeles, shared the other half for discovering that an invisible and extremely heavy object governs the orbits of stars at the centre of our galaxy.

Ghez – only the fourth woman to be awarded the Physics prize after Marie Curie in 1903, Maria Goeppert-Mayer in 1963 and Donna Strickland in 2018 – said she hoped it would inspire others to enter the field.

Asked about the moment of discovery, Ghez said: “The first thing is doubt.”

“You have to prove to yourself that what you are really seeing is what you think you are seeing. So, both doubt and excitement,” the 55-year-old American said in a call with the committee after receiving the award.

Genzel was on a Zoom call with colleagues when the phone rang. “Just like in the movies, a voice said: ‘This is Stockholm’,” the 68-year-old astrophysicist told Reuters Television in his cluttered office on the outskirts of Munich.

He was flabbergasted by the news:


Black hole discoveries earn three scientists a Nobel Prize in Physics

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The 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to three scientists Tuesday for their discoveries around one of the most fascinating and mysterious parts of our known universe: black holes.

Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez were jointly awarded half of the annual Prize for their discovery of a compact, supermassive object indicative of a black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy. Richard Penrose was awarded half of the Prize for mathematical methods proving that black holes are indeed a consequence of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity. 

Einstein’s 1915 theory states that massive objects, like planets, stars, and supermassive blackholes distort space-time around them, which gives us gravity. The more massive an object is, the stronger its distortion is, and thus the stronger its gravitational pull is. 

For decades, black holes were a theoretical explanation for what occurs when objects become so massive that light can’t escape their gravitational pull, but even Einstein himself didn’t think they existed. Penrose, a professor at the University of Oxford, proved that they could form in 1965 with a mathematical model. Our first actual image of a black hole only just occurred in 2019.

Genzel and Ghez’s work has involved observing the center of our own galaxy, a region known as Sagittarius A*, since the 1990s, using the biggest telescopes on Earth. What they found was a whole bunch of stars spiraling around the galaxy’s center at ludicrous speeds, evidence that they’re being pulled by a supermassive black hole.

Ghez, a professort at University

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