LCO Telescopes Observe a Star Being Shredded by a Supermassive Black Hole

Oct 21, 2020


Using telescopes from LCO and other organizations around the world, astronomers have spotted a rare blast of light from a star being ripped apart by a supermassive black hole. The phenomenon, known as a Tidal Disruption Event, is the closest such flare recorded to date at just over 215 million light-years from Earth, and has been studied in unprecedented detail. Image credit: European Southern Observatory

A star that is sucked in by a black hole experiences what’s known as spaghettification in a Tidal Disruption Event. These events are rare and not always easy to study. As some material from a star falls into the black hole during the spaghettification process, a bright flare of energy is released, which astronomers can detect.

Last year, a flash of light was detected near a black of hole and teams of researchers around the world pointed telescopes in order to investigate in detail what happens when a star is devoured. The discovery was possible because the Tidal Disruption Event the teams studied, AT2019qiz, was found just a short time after the star was ripped apart. The teams carried out observations of AT2019qiz, located in a spiral galaxy in the constellation of Eridanus, over a 6-month period as the flare grew in luminosity and then faded away. Multiple observations of the event were taken over the following months with facilities that included LCO optical telescopes. The prompt and extensive observations in ultraviolet, optical, X-ray and radio light revealed, for the first time, a direct connection between the material flowing out from the star and the bright flare emitted as it is devoured by the black hole.

The research helps us better understand supermassive black holes and how matter behaves in the extreme gravity environments around them.

The work was published in the paper “An outflow powers the optical rise of the nearby, fast-evolving tidal disruption event AT2019qiz” which appeared in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Five LCO scientists, including three graduate students, are listed as contributors to the research.

Please read the full article in this press release from the European Southern Observatory.

Many press articles have covered this discovery with references to the contributions of Las Cumbres Observatory. Here is a partial list of stories published on the discovery:

Death by spaghettification: Scientists record last moments of star devoured by black hole Science Daily

Researchers Spot Rare Burst of Light from Star Gobbled by Supermassive Black Hole AZOQuantum

Black Hole Kills Star By Spaghettification: Unprecedented Tidal Disruption Shown In Artistic Animation [Video] International Business Times

Astronomers report two new space oddities: Death by spaghettification and a stellar peacock. Cosmos

Astronomers Monitor Flare from Nearby, Fast-Evolving Tidal Disruption Event SciNews

Return to Highlights