Researchers made this discovery using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and Swift satellite as well as ESA’s XMM-Newton, Joinfo.com reports with reference to NASA.
Three X-ray telescopes found evidence that the intense gravity of a black hole can destroy a star. The process is called “tidal disruption event” (TDE). During TDE some of the stellar debris is flung outward at high speeds, while the rest falls toward the black hole.
As it travels inwards to be ingested by the black hole, the material heats up to millions of degrees and generates a distinct X-ray flare.
“We have witnessed a star’s spectacular and prolonged demise,” said Dacheng Lin from the University of New Hampshire in Durham, New Hampshire, who led the study. “Dozens of tidal disruption events have been detected since the 1990s, but none that remained bright for nearly as long as this one.”
The extraordinary long bright phase of this event spanning over ten years means that among observed TDEs this was either the most massive star ever to be completely torn apart during one of these events, or the first where a smaller star was completely torn apart.
The X-ray source containing this force-fed black hole, named XJ1500+0154, is located in a small galaxy about 1.8 billion light years from Earth.
“For most of the time we’ve been looking at this object, it has been growing rapidly,” said co-author James Guillochon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass. “This tells us something unusual – like a star twice as heavy as our Sun – is being fed into the black hole.”
The conclusion that supermassive black holes can grow, from TDEs and perhaps other means, at immense rates has important implications. Such rapid growth may help explain how supermassive black holes were able to reach masses about a billion times higher than the sun when the universe was only about a billion years old.
“This event shows that black holes really can grow at extraordinarily high rates,” said co-author Stefanie Komossa of QianNan Normal University for Nationalities in Duyun City, China. “This may help understand how precocious black holes came to be.”
Based on the modeling by the researchers, the black hole’s feeding supply should be significantly reduced in the next decade. This would result in XJ1500+0154 fading in X-ray brightness over the next several years.
A paper describing these results appears on February 6th issue in Nature Astronomy and is available online.