A black hole in outer space nearly shredded a star in the process of its normal functioning.
A couple of x-ray telescopes have shown how a star disintegrated within a black hole. The sort of ultimate forces that surround a black hole are just beginning to be understood now.
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Whenever a star comes within the ambit of a black hole, it is pulled apart in all directions and gets virtually torn into shreds. While some of the resulting debris falls into the black hole, the remaining is thrown outwards with great force so that it goes hurtling into space.
“We have seen evidence for a handful of tidal disruptions over the years and have developed a lot of ideas of what goes on,” said Jon Miller of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, who led the study that is described in a paper published in the latest issue of Nature.
“This one is the best chance we have had so far to really understand what happens when a black hole shreds a star.”
The x-ray flare that results from the debris that has been flung outwards is a hint of what is going on within the event horizon of the black hole. Black holes have pretty much remained a mystery up until now.
The x-ray flare can last for several years so it is an obvious pointer towards what happens in the depths of space. This tearing apart of a star occurred in case of a very large black hole. It weighed many million times more than the mass of our sun. It is 290 million light years away from our planet.
Yet this is the closest such a phenomenon has ever happened. As the star gets incinerated within the black hole, it sends off x-rays due to the millions of degrees of heat it generates.
“The black hole tears the star apart and starts swallowing material really quickly, but that’s not the end of the story,” said co-author Jelle Kaastra of the Institute for Space Research in the Netherlands. “The black hole can’t keep up that pace so it expels some of the material outwards.”
Remember that no light can escape the gravitational pull of a black hole. Gases enter it in the form of a spiral. While the black hole does try to suck in as much matter as possible, it cannot keep up this act for long. So, some of the matter is spewed outwards too. It finds its way on the radar screens of our astronomical instruments in the form of blips.
“These results support some of our newest ideas for the structure and evolution of tidal disruption events,” said Cole Miller, a co-author from the University of Maryland in College Park. “In the future, tidal disruptions can provide us with laboratories to study the effects of extreme gravity.”
This evidence which is just in may lend credence to newer theories about the universe. After all, our composite picture of the universe and our place in it is incomplete. A lot still needs to be salvaged from the outer universal unconscious. The exploration of the final frontier has barely begun.
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After all, our cultural evolution is still in its infancy. The results of extreme gravity as are to be found around a black hole will lend us valuable clues into the nature of these dark and mysterious objects of the far off pavilions of space.