Astronomers have exposed a massive black hole that's so voracious, it's been devouring on a star for over a decade now. This is something big and strange for astronomers because it is more than 10 times longer than any stellar meal detected before. A feast that long is beyond our current understanding. Scientists aren't quite sure how it's been sustained without twisting the laws of physics. It’s more like a puzzle now and solving it would tell us how black holes in the initial days of the Cosmos got more massive than we've been able to explain.
|Image Credit: NASA/CXC/UNH/D.Lin/M.Weiss|
Whenever a star comes too close to a black hole, the black hole's powerful gravitational force can rip the star apart. This is known as a tidal disruption event (TDE). Astronomers have spotted several TDE’s in the past by detecting distinct X-ray flare they produce. Most of the TDEs are very short-lived events, which is why the fresh observation is so astonishing.
Lead researcher Dacheng Lin from the University of New Hampshire in Durham, said:
We have witnessed a star's spectacular and prolonged demise. Dozens of tidal disruption events have been detected since the 1990s, but none that remained bright for nearly as long as this one.
Actually, that meal has been going on for so long, it's pushing the boundaries of physics - the star being eaten has exceeded something called the Eddington limit, which is the maximum glow a star can attain before it's no longer stable.
The theory is that if a star is releasing enough radiation to get this bright, then gravity should hardly be able to hold it together. And for that reason we've never really been able to understand how supermassive black holes at the centre of many galaxies, including our Milky Way, grew as big as they are.
This record-breaking hungry black hole is nicknamed XJ1500+0154, and exists at the core of a small galaxy about 1.8 billion light-years away.
It was spotted by a trio of satellites - NASA's Chandra X-ray observatory and Swift satellite, as well as the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton.
You can read the full paper here.