Stars scream when eaten by black holes

This just in: stars scream when a black hole eats them. You'd scream too, I bet, but you'd be in space, so nobody would hear you. Except, apparently, these astronomers from the University of Michigan, who have managed to measure the noise made by a star being swallowed by a black hole in a galaxy 3.9 billion light years away.

Before you star yelling at us for talking about sound when there's no sound in space, let's clarify: the "sound" here is actually "quasiperiodic oscillations," which, if you were to convert their periodic frequency into something audible, would come out as an ultra-low D-sharp. These oscillations, which were measured to occur every 200 seconds, came from a star getting torn apart and consumed by a ravenous black hole. As the star gets sucked in and shredded, its remains form what's called an accretion disc around the event horizon of the black hole. The disc gets hotter and hotter, and just before it crosses over into oblivion or an alternate universe or something, it emits this quasiperiodic wobble of X-rays that the researchers are calling a scream.

To watch this happening, the astronomers relied on the Swift, NASA's high-energy space telescope, along with XMM-Newton. Similar phenomena had been observed in big black holes, ranging in size from ten times the mass of our sun up to supermassive monsters inside galactic cores, but this is by far the, uh, farthest away we've ever been able to measure something like this, and the first time we've seen it in a latent galactic core in the process of reactivating itself. Techniques like these could be a new way for us to study general relativity on an extremely massive (think "universal") scale.

Via Futurity

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