Astronomers see first hint of silhouette spaghettified star


Share post:

For decades astronomers have been spotting bursts of electromagnetic radiation coming from black holes. They assumed those are the result of stars being torn apart, but they have never seen the silhouette of the actual material ligaments. Now a group of astronomers, including lead author Giacomo Cannizzaro and Peter Jonker from SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research/Radboud University, has for the first time observed spectral absorption lines caused by strands of a spaghettified star. 

Astronomers see first hint of silhouette spaghettified star
A black hole tears a star apart, leaving a long string of star material, which then
wraps itself around the black hole [Credit: NASA/CXC/M. Weiss]

Most stars in our universe die of natural causes. They either blow off their outer shells, or simply cool down due to fuel shortage, or they could go out with a bang in a giant supernova explosion. But stars living in the inner region of their galaxy might not be so lucky. They are in danger of getting torn into slim filaments by the supermassive black hole that lurks in the center of most galaxies. The extreme gravity of the black hole pulls so much harder at one side of the star than at the other side that it rips the star apart. Astronomers like to call this process spaghettification, but in scientific publications they reluctantly stick with the official term Tidal Disruption Event.

After a star has transformed into a spaghetti strand, it falls further into the black hole, emitting a short burst of radiation. Astronomers have spotted these bursts for decades now, and based on the theory they assumed that they were looking at Tidal Disruption Events. But they have never seen the actual material ligaments, as in a physical object that not only emits but also blocks light. 

Now an international team of astronomers has for the first time observed spectral absorption lines while looking at one of the poles of a black hole. It was already evident that black holes can have a disk of accreted material around their equator, but absorption lines above a black hole’s pole suggest there is a long strand wrapped many times all around the black hole, like a yarn ball: the actual material ligament from a freshly torn star.

The researchers know the black hole is facing them from its pole because they detect X-rays. The accretion disk is the only part of a black hole system that emits this type of radiation. If they were looking edge-on, they wouldn’t see the accretion disk’s X-rays. “Moreover the absorption lines are narrow,” says lead author Giacomo Cannizzaro (SRON/Radboud University). “They are not broadened by the Doppler effect, like you’d expect when you would be looking at a rotating disk.”

The study is published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Source: SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research [April 23, 2021]

Support The Archaeology News Network with a small donation!



Related articles

Model challenges traditional beliefs about habitability of Mars

A team led by scientists at Caltech and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which Caltech manages for NASA,...

Why Earth is not an orbiting ice ball

More than 2 billion years ago, a much fainter sun should have left Earth as an orbiting ice...

Billions of starless planets haunt dark cloud cradles

In Lovecraftian horror, the Universe is filled with “dark planets” ungraced by the light of a host star....

Mathematical discovery could shed light on secrets of the Universe

How can Einstein's theory of gravity be unified with quantum mechanics? It is a challenge that could give...

Supernova reveals secrets to astronomers

An international group of astronomers led by Benjamin Thomas of The University of Texas at Austin has used...

Stellar thief is the surviving companion to a supernova

Seventeen years ago, astronomers witnessed a supernova go off 40 million light-years away in the galaxy called NGC...

It’s filamentary: How galaxies evolve in the cosmic web

How do galaxies like our Milky Way form, and just how do they evolve? Are galaxies affected by...

On the origin of massive stars

This scene of stellar creation, captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, sits near the outskirts of the...