For the first time, astronomers have directly witnessed the aftermath of a black hole consuming a nearby star, imaging the formation and expansion of a high-speed jet of material ejected in the maelstrom.
Black holes devouring nearby stars generate a variety of effects, but a new model suggests what is seen on Earth depends on the hole’s orientation and the viewing angle. Surveys are planned to search for more such tidal disruption events.
NASA’s Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer, decommissioned in 2012, fell back into the atmosphere and burned up 30 April, finally bringing a remarkably successful mission to study black holes and neutron stars to a fiery end.
Some 290 million years ago, a star much like the sun wandered too close to the central black hole of its galaxy. Intense tides tore the star apart, which produced an eruption of optical, ultraviolet and X-ray light that first reached Earth in 2014.