A Supermassive Black Hole Shot a Jet at the Speed of Light Toward Earth

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A star is moving into the gaping mouth of a black hole right now, somewhere in the boundless expanse of our universe. 

When it comes near enough, it will begin to die, a process we like to call “spaghettification,” producing a huge jet of energy that may be visible from Earth.

A tidal disruption event is what is causing this occurrence (TDE). It’s unusual. However, if one is found, astronomers will have the opportunity to see a black hole actively devouring celestial objects

That’s precisely what occurred when a group of astronomers from across the world saw the furthest TDE in historical evidence. The astronomers reported finding a supermassive black hole engulfing a star around 12.4 billion light years distant in a publication published Nov. 30 in the journals Nature and Nature Astronomy. A vast and brilliant jet of energy was released by the TDE, and it was visible with optical telescopes.

The occurrence, according to the study’s authors, helped scientists understand how supermassive black holes emerge as well as how the early cosmos would have appeared.

“The luminous jet of material was launched almost at the speed of light and the jet was pointing in our direction,” Igon Andreoni, an astronomer at the University of Maryland and co-leader of the Nature paper, said to The Daily Beast. “This is an extremely rare phenomenon and it is even rarer that it can be observed at all because the jet is collimated, which means that we can observe it only if we are very close to the direction in which it is pointing.”

Approximately 8.5 billion years passed before the light from the event reached us, according to Andreoni. That indicates that it happened when the cosmos was just a third as old as it is now.

This just serves to emphasize how dazzling AT2022cmc was when it happened. The authors of the study speculate that this was caused by how the black hole was traveling when it sucked up the star, even if this isn’t clear.

“[We] argue that the black hole was likely spinning fast, which might have an important role for these powerful jets to be launched,” Anderoni said. “We also concluded that the black hole, despite being ‘supermassive,’ is not more massive than most black holes at the center of galaxies—‘only’ a few hundreds of millions of times the mass of our Sun.”

With the use of more modern telescopes, such as the planned Vera C. Rubin Observatory being erected in Chile, the researchers now want to expand on their previous findings. When finished, it will be capable of seeing the whole viewable sky a few nights every week.

Using optical telescopes, Anderoni expects the new observatory will be able to “unveil a whole population of jetted TDEs.”

“Unveiling a population of such rare transients means that we can greatly improve our understanding of the violent universe,” he said.


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