Imagine the following scene: a star similar in size to that of our Sun is quietly traveling its orbit at a distance of 215 million light years from Earth. Then, at a certain moment, it ends up passing too close to a supermassive black hole – the heaviest type, with mass that is millions of times greater than that of the Sun.
It is your last mistake. This unwanted proximity causes the star to be sucked into the hole. Resisting, especially in this case, is far from an option: the black hole has a mass 1 million times greater – and, therefore, attracts the small star in a much more forceful way than it is attracted by it.
The most curious chapter in this process is what astronomers call spaghetti. As if going down a drain, the star begins to disintegrate towards the black hole, losing mass. In the end, the sucked star ends up losing its shape and, being so stretched, it looks like spaghetti – hence the name.
After part of the mass of the star “falls” into the hole and is destroyed, a large amount of energy is released, which generates a huge cloud of debris. There is also a flash – which can be detected here on Earth if scientists are quick to trigger and point powerful telescopes at the right point in the universe. This luminous phenomenon is known as the “tidal interruption event”.
The good news is that this “lucky break” happened. European astronomers managed to catch a tidal interruption event in detail for the first time. This allowed them to recreate with unprecedented precision how a star turns into “pasta” because of the action of a black hole. The result of the reconstitution was this video, which you can watch below.
“The idea of a black hole ‘sucking’ a nearby star seems like science fiction. But this is exactly what happens in a tidal interruption event, ”says Matt Nicholl, a researcher at the University of Birmingham, UK, who led the study.
Named AT2019qiz, the event was detected by scientists shortly after the star’s death. “As we followed it from an early age, we were able to see the dust and debris curtain formed after the black hole launched a powerful flow of matter, with speeds of up to 10,000 kilometers per second,” he said. in a statement Kate Alexander, one of the co-authors.
For six months of 2019, observatory telescopes from around the world were used to collect information about the star’s spaghetification. Among them are the European Southern Observatory, in Chile, the Las Cumbres Observatory, in the USA, and the American space observatory Swift. Although it happened more than 200 million light years from Earth, it was the closest tidal interruption event ever observed – which contributed to the richness of the simulation details you saw above.
The scientific study detailing the discovery was published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society last Monday (12). You can read it clicking here.