In a groundbreaking discovery, astronomers from the University of Leicester have observed a Sun-like star being repeatedly shredded and consumed by a black hole located a staggering 500 million light years away. This phenomenon is far from the typical tidal disruption events where a black hole engulfs a star.
What sets this event apart is the regularity of the emissions, which occur at approximately 25-day intervals. The pattern falls between the more frequent outbursts that occur every few hours and the less frequent annual ones. Rather than fading away, as expected, the star, dubbed Swift J0230, radiates intensely for a period of seven to 10 days before abruptly extinguishing. This cycle repeats every 25 days, leaving researchers perplexed yet fascinated.
The findings, published in the journal Nature Astronomy, shed new light on how black holes disrupt stars in their orbit. Unlike previously observed systems, where the star is completely destroyed, Swift J0230 exhibits a distinct behavior. Models indicate that the star, similar in size to our Sun, follows an elliptical orbit around a low-mass black hole situated at the center of its galaxy.
As the star approaches the black hole, an astounding amount of material equivalent to three Earths is mercilessly ripped from Swift J0230’s atmosphere. This material is then heated up as it plunges into the black hole, producing incredibly high temperatures of approximately 2,000,000 degrees Celsius. These extreme conditions release copious amounts of X-rays.
Surprisingly, the black hole responsible for this spectacle is estimated to have a mass ranging between 10,000 to 100,000 times that of the Sun. While this may seem impressive to us, it is relatively petite for a supermassive black hole.
The observations made by the University of Leicester astronomers provide invaluable insights into the complex interactions between black holes and stars. The regularity of Swift J0230’s emissions challenges existing theories and opens up new avenues of research regarding the behavior of these enigmatic cosmic entities.
This extraordinary discovery not only expands our knowledge of the universe but also showcases the impressive capabilities of astronomers in unraveling its mysteries. As scientists continue to explore the depths of space, it is inevitable that more captivating phenomena like the one observed with Swift J0230 will come to light, fueling our perpetual fascination with the cosmos.
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