NASA watches star getting eaten by black hole

NASA's "Swift" gamma ray burst tracking satellite spotted a huge blast of energy from a distant galaxy last month, and astronomers now think that it was the dying gasp of a star getting shredded by a black hole.

Gamma ray bursts are among the largest explosions in the known universe, releasing as much energy every second or two as our sun does in ten billion years. They're fairly rare, and tend to happen in very distant galaxies, which is good because one happening within a couple thousand light-years of here could potentially nuke most of our ozone layer and cause a mass extinction.

The burst that Swift spotted last month, though, wasn't your typical GRB event. A lot of energy was released, about a trillion times as much as our sun, but the way the light peaked and faded seemed to indicate that instead of a sun exploding, the burst came from a sun being torn apart and consumed by a supermassive black hole at the center of a galaxy about four billion light-years away.

What may have happened is that a star orbiting the black hole just fell in for some reason. As this took place, the star was stretched out into a long thing blob by tidal forces from the black hole, and at some point, the gravity from the black hole overwhelmed the gravity of the star itself, literally ripping it apart. The leftover star pieces would have orbited the black hole for a short time forming an accretion disk, which would have given off enormous amounts of energy before crossing the black hole's event horizon and exiting our dimension.

It's hard to tell exactly what went on a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, but based on the data taken by Swift and other telescopes, this is the best guess as to what went down, and it's pretty mind-blowing if you ask me.

Via Discover

For the latest tech stories, follow us on Twitter at @dvice