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This Supermassive Black Hole Is Being 'Choked' on a Sudden Influx of Stardust

Mar 16, 2017 12:23 PM EDT
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A team led by researchers at MIT discovered a supermassive black hole about 300 million light years away from earth 'choking' on what seems to be a sudden influx of stellar debris.
(Photo : FAECIASP/NASA/ Conicet of Argentina/Getty Images)

A team led by researchers at MIT discovered a supermassive black hole about 300 million light years away from earth "choking" on what seems to be a sudden influx of stellar debris.

Their discovery, described in a paper published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, showed that the materials from a star ripped apart by a supermassive black hole were being swallowed in burst and not continuously.

"In essence, this black hole has not had much to feed on for a while, and suddenly along comes an unlucky star full of matter," said Dheeraj Pasham, a postdoc in MIT's Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research and first author of the study, in a statement.

Pasham said that the materials from the stars is not continously going into the supermassive black hole. Instead, it's like a clogged drain were materials are periodically stopping, which reveals that the supermassive blackhole is "choking" from the amount of stellar debris that's being suddenly fed to it.

On Nov. 11, 2014, the All Sky Automated Survey for SuperNovae (ASASSN) detected signals of a possible tidal disruption flare from a galaxy 300 million light-years away. Tidal disruption flare is the dramatic bursts on electromagnetic activity that happens when a black hole rip apart a nearby star.

The obliteration of the star could result incredible bursts of energy all along the electromagnetic spectrum, from radio bands through the optical and UV wavelengths, and on through the X-ray and high-energy gamma ray bands.

Using data collected from two different telescopes, the researchers identified a pattern in the energy emitted by the tidal flare. The researchers observed small fluctuations in the optical and UV bands as stellar dusts gets sucked up into the supermassive black hole. The same pattern repeated itself in X-ray band 32 days later.

With the help of models of black hole dynamics and simulations run by other scientists, the researchers conclude that the small fluctuations in the optical and UV bands were caused by stellar debris colliding with each other on the outer perimeter of the supermassive black hole.

Normally, the materials in the accretion disk of black holes are slowly rotating and losing some energy with each circular orbit. However, when lost of stellar materials falls into black holes, the debris start interacting with itself while getting sucked into the supermassive black hole.

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