Hopkins Scientists Observe a Black Hole Eating a Star

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Image by Amadeo Bachar
Image by Amadeo Bachar

A group of Johns Hopkins astrophysicists recently observed a never-before-seen event: a star about the size of our own sun slipped out of its orbit and was devoured by a supermassive black hole, which then ejected a flare of matter (think of it as kind of an interstellar burp).

The images above are an artist’s rendering of what the Hopkins astrophysicists observed over a period of months. The team was most excited to witness the black hole ejecting the flare, which is also known as a radio jet. “These events are extremely rare,” said Sjoert van Velzen, a Hubble fellow at Johns Hopkins. “It’s the first time we see everything from the stellar destruction followed by the launch of a conical outflow, also called a jet.”

Astrophysicists have theorized that while black holes are so dense that matter can’t escape from them, when they consume a large amount of gas (such as an entire star), certain fast-moving elementary particles can escape from the edge of the black hole, which is known as the event horizon. This observation seems to support that theory–and seems perfect to be exploited by Hollywood directors making the next generation of space thrillers. Stay tuned for Escape from the Black Hole.



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