NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer, a space telescope, has caught for the first time, the process by which a black hole eats a star — from the first bite to the final chomp.
Lead author of a new paper appearing in the recent issue of Astrophysical journal Letters, Suvi Gezari, of the California Institute of Technology, said such events were rare.
"This type of event is very rare, so we are lucky to study the entire process from beginning to end," said Gezari.
According to her, the black hole might have remained dormant in an unnamed elliptical galaxy for probably thousands of years. But when a star ventured a little too close, the black hole’s gravity tore it asunder.
“Part of the shredded star swirled around the black hole, then began to plunge into it, triggering a bright ultraviolet flare that the Galaxy Evolution Explorer was able to detect. Today, the space-based telescope continues to periodically watch this ultraviolet light fade as the black hole finishes the remaining bits of its stellar meal,” said Gezari.
“The observations will ultimately provide a better understanding of how black holes evolve with their host galaxies,” she said.
“It will help us greatly in weighing black holes in the universe, and in understanding how they feed and grow in their host galaxies as the universe evolves," added Christopher Martin of Caltech, a co-author of the paper and the principal investigator for the Galaxy Evolution Explorer.