NASA spots a Black Hole snacking on sun-like star, bite by bite

A groundbreaking observation has provided astrophysicists and space enthusiasts with riveting details about a supermassive black hole's dietary habits. 

Unlike most black holes, which devour stars in a single gulp due to their immense gravitational forces, this particular black hole takes 'bites' from a star resembling our sun. The phenomenon sheds light on the complexities of these enigmatic cosmic entities and broadens our understanding of the most violent locales in the universe.

A Closer Look at the Supermassive Black Hole's Diet

The supermassive black hole at the core of a spiral-shaped galaxy located approximately 520 million light-years from Earth is in the limelight for its intriguing dietary choices. In a cyclical pattern, it feeds off material equivalent to thrice the Earth's mass from a star every 20 to 30 days. This sun-like star, while coming close enough to have its stellar atmosphere partially consumed, maintains an orbit that prevents its total destruction.

The Role of NASA's Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory

The data for this captivating research was chiefly collected from NASA's Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory. The orbital observatory detected a massive burst of X-rays, marking the intense heating of stellar material to around 3.6 million degrees Fahrenheit (2 million degrees Celsius) as it was accreted by the supermassive black hole.

The Concept of Repeating Partial Tidal Disruptions

The pattern observed is termed a "repeating partial tidal disruption." It occurs when a star's material is siphoned off as it passes close to the black hole but maintains a distance to avert total destruction. This concept enriches our comprehension of the violent interactions between celestial bodies in a galaxy's central region.

Implications for the Future

Astrophysicist Rob Eyles-Ferris, one of the study's authors, speculates that the star will eventually inch closer to the black hole, resulting in a complete disruption. This event, however, may unfold over decades or even centuries, signaling the slow and relentless dynamics at play.

The observed phenomenon is the first instance where a supermassive black hole has been seen to snack on a star similar to our sun repeatedly. This discovery underscores the fluid nature of astrophysical research, where new insights can emerge unpredictably, reshaping our understanding of the cosmos.

Research paper

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