Image of a flaming comet passing over a Black Hole

Sun-like star destroyed by Black Hole


ARC researchers gather evidence of exceptional event

In 2015 the ASAS-SN detector picked up what was thought to be the brightest supernova ever seen – fully twice as bright as the previous record holder. Now a team of researchers, including astronomers from Queen’s, have revealed that the immensely brilliant burst of light may have a still more remarkable explanation.

The team now believes the explosion marks the fate of a star caught up by the immense gravitational forces of a rapidly spinning, supermassive black hole.

The star, comparable in size to our own sun, appears to have encountered a very rare ‘tidal disruption event’, essentially being shredded by a spinning black hole some 100 million times more massive than the sun. As the unlucky star was torn apart, unimaginably violent collisions among the debris saw some of the mass being converted into huge amounts of radiated light.

Professor Steven Smartt, whose ESO team gathered some of the crucial data, said: “This object puzzled us for months. Our international team has experts who work on the most extreme physics in the Universe and the initial explanation of a supernova just didn’t seem to fit all the data comfortably”. 

A paper setting out the detailed analysis of the event was published on Monday 12 December in Nature Astronomy.  “This is an excellent example of international collaboration and scientific team work”, said Prof Smartt, “ably led by Giorgos Leloudas [of the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel, and Dark Cosmology Centre, Denmark]”.

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21 December 2016

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