Astronomers have made the remarkable observation of a sun-like star that has been “repeatedly shredded and consumed” by a black hole located about 500 million light-years away. According to a report published in WatchmanThis extraordinary event generated regular bursts of luminosity occurring at intervals of about 25 days, a phenomenon that caught the attention of the researchers from the University of Leicester.
Typically, black hole outbursts, known as tidal disturbance events, occur when a star is devoured by a black hole. However, in this case, the black hole was emitting frequent emissions, indicating that it was repeatedly causing partial destruction of the stars it consumed, according to Watchman a report. Repeated eruptive events lead to two distinct types of eruptions: some occur every few hours, and others occur annually. The researchers note that the observed regularity falls somewhere between these two categories.
The observations revealed an unexpected pattern in the star’s behaviour. Instead of fading as expected, the star, known as Swift J0230, will shine intensely for seven to 10 days before suddenly going out, repeating this cycle about every 25 days. The research, published in the journal Nature Astronomy, fills a critical gap in our understanding of how black holes disrupt orbiting stars.
“In most systems we’ve seen in the past, the star has been completely destroyed. Swift J0230 is an exciting addition to the category of partially malfunctioning stars,” said Dr. Robert Isles Ferris, who recently completed his Ph.D. at UCLA. Lester said Watchman.
Lead author of the study, Dr Phil Evans from the University of Leicester’s School of Physics and Astronomy, said: “This is the first time we’ve seen a star like our Sun being repeatedly shredded and consumed by a low-mass black hole.”
Based on models of the Swift J0230 explosion, it is estimated that the star is about the same size as our Sun and follows an elliptical orbit around the low-mass black hole at the center of its galaxy. Calculations indicate that material equivalent to the mass of three Earths was plucked from Swift J0230’s atmosphere and heated as it plunged into the black hole, generating intense temperatures of about 2,000,000 degrees Celsius and emitting a massive amount of X-rays. These X-rays were initially detected by NASA’s Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory.
Researchers estimate that the mass of the black hole ranges from 10,000 to 100,000 times that of the Sun, making it relatively small for a supermassive black hole.