When a star passes within a certain distance of a black hole, the stellar material gets stretched and compressed as the black hole swallows it, briefly releasing an enormous amount of energy as a flare. Astronomers have now observed infrared light echoes from these “stellar tidal disruption” events reflected by dust encircling a black hole.
When a star comes too close to the intense gravity of black hole, the resulting tidal forces can rip the star apart. In these so-called tidal disruptions, some of the stellar debris is flung outward at high speeds, while the rest falls toward the black hole, causing a distinct X-ray flare that can last for years. A team of astronomers has observed a tidal disruption event in galaxy PGC 043234 that lies about 290 million light-years from Earth.