LONGEST-EVER BLACK HOLE FEEDING FRENZY RECORDED
Now this really is a long lunch: a team at the University of New Hampshire has found a giant black hole that has been chowing down on a nearby star for almost a decade. That’s over 10 times longer than any other instance of star death previously recorded.
Dubbed XJ1500+0154, the black hole is located in a small galaxy about 1.8 billion lightyears from Earth. Its epic meal is an example of a tidal disruption event (TDE), a phenomenon that occurs when an object such as a star wanders too close to a black hole, and is captured in its powerful gravitational field.
During a TDE, some of the material making up the star is flung outward at high speeds, while the rest falls toward the black hole. As it travels inward it is ingested, heating up to millions of degrees and generating distinctive X-ray flares. It was these flares that were picked up by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and Swift Satellite, and ESA’s XMM-Newton, revealing the TDE.
“We have witnessed a star’s spectacular and prolonged demise,” said lead researcher Dacheng Lin. “Dozens of these so-called tidal disruption events have been detected since the 1990s, but none that remained bright for nearly as long as this one.”
The black hole will continue to ingest the star for several more years, but at a reduced rate, say the researchers.
Black hole XJ1500+0154 has been consuming a nearby star for over a decade, as shown in