A spinning, supermassive black hole may have sucked in a star and “spaghettified” it, creating an incredibly bright light in a far-off galaxy, astronomers announced on Monday.
The light was so bright that astronomers first thought that it was the explosion of the brightest supernova in recorded history. It was 20 times brighter, at its peak, than the amount of light put out by all of the Milky Way, according to the European Southern Observatory. But now, they have a stronger theory. If a spinning, huge black hole at the center of this galaxy— as massive as 100 million suns, at least— pulled in a passing star and shredded it, that would have created the incredibly luminous event.
“We observed the source for 10 months following the event and have concluded that the explanation is unlikely to lie with an extraordinarily bright supernova,” Giorgos Leloudas, the lead researcher and a postdoctoral researcher at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, said in a statement. “Our results indicate that the event was probably caused by a rapidly spinning supermassive black hole as it destroyed a low-mass star.”
The rare phenomenon they’re describing is called a tidal disruption event, and a computer simulation shows the star being pulled into a long spaghetti-like strand as it’s pulled in and spirals down into the black hole. That violent, dramatic process likely created the light, the astronomers think. They used both the Hubble Space Telescope and telescopes on the ground to make their observations and come to this conclusion, which was published in the journal Nature Astronomy.
The galaxy where this dazzling event, called ASASSN-15lh, happened is very far away: about four billion light years from Earth.
“Even with all the collected data we cannot say with 100% certainty that the ASASSN-15lh event was a tidal disruption event,” Leloudas added, in the statement. “But it is by far the most likely explanation.”
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