Scientists believe they’ve observed a supermassive black hole devouring a star for the first time ever. Two papers published this week in Nature describe radiation patterns consistent with a black hole tearing apart a sun-sized star in the Draco constellation, 4.5 billion light-years away.
The initial blast of radiation was detected on March 28th by the Swift observatory’s X-ray telescope, which sent an automated text message to alert astronomers to the event. They observed three more bursts, too bright to have come from a common supernova.
According to the researchers, the star got close enough to the black hole to be stretched and eventually shredded by its gravity, causing the jet of high-energy radiation that they observed via the Swift telescope. They estimate that the black hole may have swallowed as much as 1/5th of the star’s mass.