An global group of astronomers has directly imaged the eruption resulting from a violent encounter between a supermassive black hole 20 million times more massive than our sun and a much smaller star, some 150 million light-years away. The black hole is about 20 million times more massive than the Sun and is now shredding a star over two times as massive as the Sun, that was unfortunate enough to drift too close to the gargantuan monster.
This enormous black hole had been feasting on a star and was shooting out an incredibly fast particle jet, piercing through the gas and dust disk around it. A supermassive black hole placed in the middle of one of these galaxies was tearing apart a star that came close to it, throwing out a vast blast in the process. These observations eventually showed the presence of a unidirectional emission of matter, from the edge of the black hole, moving about 1/4 of the speed of light and thus confirming its relativistic jet nature.
Supermassive black holes are known to devour everything with their powerful gravitational tug. The initial infrared burst was discovered as part of a project that sought to detect supernova explosions in such colliding pairs of galaxies. In order to be able to watch this impressive event, they used highly-advanced telescopes.
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Originally those jets, from Earth, appeared as a supernova.
Over the following decade, scientists monitored the object using a variety of different equipment including the Very Long Baseline Array and the European VLBI Network, as well as other different radio telescopes. These multiple radio antennas separated by thousands of kilometers allow the VLBA to gain an incredible resolving power - the ability to see fine detail - which is required to observe the features of an expanding object from millions of light-years away.
However, the radio and infrared emissions continued to wave outward, like an interstellar greeting, six months later.
"That they were able to resolve the jet and track its motion is super exciting", Ashley Bevin, programme director from the National Science Foundation, who was not involved in the study, told Gizmodo.
In fact, we have a unique chance to understand what happens near the black hole during these "gaps", said Miguel Perez-Torres (Miguel Perez-Torres), an astrophysicist at the Astrophysical Institute of Andalusia in Granada (Spain). Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at IPAC at Caltech. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington.
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