BBC Earth (Asia) - - Update -

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

this il­lus­tra­tion

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