On June 22, 2022, NASA’s Swift Observatory detected a strange object in a galaxy more than 500 million light-years away. It was a routine explosion of gas, and a team studying the data now believes it is evidence of a black hole intermittently devouring a star each time the latter came close.

Together, the black hole and its star are called Swift J023017.0+283603, or Swift J0230. The two are located in a galaxy called 2MASX J02301709+2836050, in the constellation Triangulum. Swift J0230 was observed by the Swift Observatory, which was launched in 2004, thanks to a new method for analyzing the telescope’s X-ray data. It was dynamic binary analysis, which was admittedly unbalanced, that happened published yesterday in Nature Astronomy.

“SWIFT’s hardware, software and skills of its international team enabled it to adapt to new areas of astrophysics throughout its life,” said Phil Evans, an astrophysicist at the University of Leicester, UK and a member of the Swift team. , at NASA launch. Neil Girls, the expedition’s namesake, oversaw and encouraged many of those transformations. Now, with this new ability, it’s delivering even more cool science.

Despite their stoic appearance in movies and photos, black holes are hardly inert. It is one of the densest objects in the universe, and the environments around it are very energetic. Black holes gather the matter around them into disks, and then gobble up the superheated material that falls within their event horizons, the region from which not even light can escape.

Snack attack of the black hole

When a star is gravitationally trapped by a black hole, the black hole sucks material from the star every time it approaches it. The black hole is feeding over time, in what is known as a recurring tidal disturbance event. Swift J0230 appears to mark such an event, although it is not the first; Another frequent tidal disturbance has recently been observed in Object ASASSN-14ko Again in 2021. Stars unfortunate enough to fall into the black hole’s orbit but too far away to be quickly devoured become trapped in a death spiral with the most massive object.

In the case of Swift J0230, a black hole more than 200,000 times the mass of the Sun is wringing three times the mass of Earth from the star each time the latter oscillates. But it may not be the end of the star; Previously, astronomers saw Black holes eject stellar material They were used up years ago.

More work is needed to distinguish tidal disturbance events from the reactivation of active galactic nuclei, or AGNs, which are supermassive black holes at the cores of galaxies that emit huge jets of material in energetic explosions. From a distance, the demise of an unlucky star might look like a black hole waking up after a long slumber.

More: Astronomers were surprised by a distant black hole coming back to life

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