This voracious black hole gobbles up half a sun a year and shoots its remnants back to Earth

black hole
Artistic representation of a tidal disturbance event — © Carl Knox – OzGrav / ARC Center of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery / Swinburne University of Technology

Astronomers have detected an incredibly bright jet coming from a distant region of the cosmos. Ironically emanating from one of the darkest objects there is, this one turns out to be as bright as a million billion billion suns.

Stellar snack

The Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) is an observatory that simultaneously scans large swathes of the night sky, on the lookout for transient events (pulsating lights like supernovae or moving objects like comets). On February 11, he spotted an exceptional phenomenon: an incredibly luminous spot that appeared in an area of ​​the cosmos that had hitherto been desperately dark.

Over the next few days, telescopes from around the world were trained on the region, studying it in X-rays, ultraviolet, optics and radio, to determine the nature of the event that gave off such amount of energy. In the context of work published in the journal Nature Astronomyscientists have identified the most likely candidate.

The signal, known as AT 2022cmc, appeared to come from a black hole located about 8.5 billion light-years away. In what is called a tidal disturbance event (TDE), this supermassive monster has devoured an unlucky star having come too close, projecting some of its matter as an intense flash of light. Although TDEs have been observed many times in the past, this is the brightest and most distant ever detected.

Animation showing the “spaghettification” of a star

According to the team, some TDEs can form relativistic jets, where powerful beams of stellar matter are accelerated to 99.99% of the speed of light. When these jets happen to be aimed directly at Earth, they can appear much brighter due to the Doppler effect, a physical phenomenon in which the frequency of a mechanical or electromagnetic wave appears to change when the emitting source and/or the wave observer are moving.

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“It engulfs the equivalent of half a sun a year”

Such an effect is not enough to explain the record light intensity recorded, the team believes that the cosmic monster is probably in full ” binge eating ».

« It engulfs the equivalent of half a sun per year “says Dheeraj Pasham, co-author of the study. ” Much of this tidal disturbance happens early, and we were lucky enough to be able to observe this event less than a week after the black hole began to devour the star.. »

According to the scientists, the frequency of detection of TDEs should continue to increase, thanks to new generation telescopes.

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