Scientists Observe Rare Black Hole Event

Posted November 27th, 2015 at 4:00 pm (UTC-5)
20 comments

Artist impression of a black hole consuming a star that has been torn apart by the black hole’s strong gravity. As a result of this massive “meal” the black hole begins to launch a powerful jet that can be detected with radio telescopes. (NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/Swift)

Artist impression of a black hole consuming a star that has been torn apart by the black hole’s strong gravity. As a result of this massive “meal” the black hole begins to launch a powerful jet that can be detected with radio telescopes. (NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/Swift)

For many here in the United States, today, Friday 11/27/15 is something called Black Friday. It’s unofficially considered to be the first shopping day of the Christmas season and many Americans mark it by heading out to shopping centers and stores in droves in hopes of finding bargains.

NASA is marking the day too; only they’re calling it Black Hole Friday.

It’s an annual event the space agency has set aside for the past three years to post photos and provide the public with information about black holes on their websites, Facebook and Twitter feeds.  They even have a special hashtag for the event – #BlackHoleFriday.

Just in time for Black Hole Friday, in a new study published in the journal Science, an international team of physicists say they have made the first observations of a supermassive black hole devouring a star, while at the same time spitting a bit of it back out in the form of a high-speed flare that’s moving matter at nearly the speed of light.

According to Dr. James Miller-Jones, an astrophysicist at Australia’s International Center for Radio Astronomy Research and a member of the research team, the energy produced by the plasma jets in this event is about the entire energy output of the Sun over 10 million years.

Artist’s conception of a star being drawn toward a black hole and destroyed (left), and the black hole later emitting a “jet” of plasma composed of debris left from the star’s destruction. Modified from an original image by Amadeo Bachar.

Artist’s conception of a star being drawn toward a black hole and destroyed (left), and the black hole later emitting a “jet” of plasma composed of debris left from the star’s destruction. Modified from an original image by Amadeo Bachar.

“It’s the first time we see everything from the stellar destruction followed by the launch of a conical outflow, also called a jet, and we watched it unfold over several months,” said team-leader Sjoert van Velzen, a Hubble fellow at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland in a press release.

The study tracked the doomed star over several months as it traveled along its normal path and then be pulled in by the tremendous gravity of the black hole.

The team’s study backs up a theory made earlier by astrophysicists who predicted that when huge amounts of gas, or in this particular instance an entire star, are crammed into a black hole, a fast-moving jet of plasma (flare) can burst from near the black hole’s event horizon or rim.

This rare event is taking place in a galaxy named PGC 043234 that is only 300 million light years away. That’s considered to be a relatively close distance to Earth which the scientists said helped them make their observations.

“The consumption of the star is still going on, and we can still observe it using NASA’s Swift satellite, said van Velzen in an email to Science World. “It will likely take a very long time — hundreds of years — to consume all of the stellar debris that remained bound to the black hole. But the most spectacular part is over now,” he said.

The team said that while the black hole they observed is considered to be super massive, which ranks it among the largest of black holes, this one was fairly light with a mass of about a million times that of our sun. Supermassive black holes can have masses that are billions times more than the sun.

The star being pulled into the black hole was described as being close to the same size as our own sun.

The high-speed flare was named ASASSN-14li by the All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae or ASAS-SN scientific team who first observed it last December (2014).

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

20 responses to “Scientists Observe Rare Black Hole Event”

  1. Dan says:

    It is not going to be so amusing when this black hole comes after our star. We need to send some type of probes out to it now and try to find out a whole lot more. We should also be looking at other planets to with younger suns to start sending our children to now

    • Ang says:

      Funny stuff dude. 300 million light years are awful close.

    • Carl says:

      Ah Fella They did say this thing is 300 MILLION Y E A R S !!! AWAY from us, We have a very good chance of being “BEINGS of Light” By then, Having Evolved By then. And if we haven’t evolved by then, we will have ceased to exist, having died off from a polluted planet, or we deserve to be sucked into a black hole. In either case you or your 100,000 grand child removed still won’t have to deal with it. Yep it is that far away, Even if it were traveling Directly at us at TWICE the speed of light… Yeah its gonna take a while. We have a very good chance of being some wheres else when calamity strikes.

    • Carl says:

      Either you watch too many science fiction movies or smoke a lot of those illegal stuff. You need to get out sometimes and enjoy mother nature. Kid, stay off of the drugs, you will live longer.

  2. close says:

    ok..when people think saturday 11/28/15 is friday..you tend to question their abilities..

  3. Donald Danner says:

    I think the universe is filled with Dead Black Holes that are not seen.
    These Dead Black Holes become the center of Stars Planets and Moons.
    These Black Holes become the personality of these worlds.
    And even the personality of People and other Life on these worlds.
    They are reborn to Live Black Holes during Super Nova explosions.
    Donald

  4. Richard says:

    Who really cares anyways, we cant keep food on tables in our own country but we can look into space at things that have no relative meaning to what we do in our exsistance on this earth. waste of time in money, what happens out there is gonna happen we cant stop create or fix any of it. let it be and live your days with whats in front of you here on this earth.

  5. bvemuri says:

    It is nice if professors in physics departments create some type replica of Black Holes to demonstrate the behavior of matter in the Universe to any level of students.

  6. Jim Probe says:

    I’ve always read or heard that nothing escapes a black hole [BH] –not even light, as long as it crosses the Event Horizon. [EH]. So, how does this BH spew Back some spume of star-stuff?!

    JP

    • james says:

      This is true the particles accelerated at near the speed of light are emanating from the event horizon. to quote the article
      ” a fast-moving jet of plasma (flare) can burst from near the black hole’s event horizon or rim.”

    • Carl says:

      Visible lite cannot escape the horizontal plane of the star as it spins. The center or pole of this star emits X-Rays at such a quantity, It could be considered a solid projectile and at almost the speed of light. WHY you ask? Well I would like to know that too. But we can See the Ejection of the X-rays with the Radio Telescopes, Not the ones like Hubble. As far as why? My Theory is that as the black hole literally crushes the space out of atoms and the result is that x-rays are expelled and released in this process and that the rotating magnetic field of the atomic mater being compressed into the center forces the x-rays out and there only escape is perpendicular to the magnetic fields and that is out the top or bottom of the spinning disk around the black hole. Hope that helps.

  7. David Loy says:

    “…as it traveled along its normal path and then be pulled in…” Can we presume any and all associated planets, asteroids, Kuiper-like objects, etc., were (or are going to be) also sucked in?

  8. Joanne says:

    Our solar system is part of a spinning ‘black hole’ – I often wonder if so called ‘black holes’ are nothing more than a vortex (like the center of a tornado) that is spinning at outrageous speeds – spinning tends to ‘pull’ whatever is close to it, toward the center. Our atoms spin, our planet spins, our solar system spins, our Milky Way spins – anyone ever ask why everything is spinning? And at speeds of 270,000+ mp (hour?, minutes? I don’t remember) but it’s really, really fast. And the neat part of all this spinning is we don’t feel it! Weird.

    • bvemuri says:

      Speed is relative. Do you feel any difference between sitting in a chair at home and in a chair on a plane?
      We are rotating along with Earth at 1037 miles/hour in space, safely covered by multiple layers of atmosphere.

  9. Rich Olsen says:

    Regarding artist’s rendering – wouldn’t the drawn out edge of the approaching star as it approaches the hole be pointing toward the hole? Like the plume of a comet does, but in reverse.