UC Santa Cruz researchers make a rare and violent space discovery

One of the most fascinating objects in outer space has become even more fascinating and mysterious.

An international team led by researchers from the University of California, Santa Cruz, the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen, and Washington State University saw a black hole devour a lone star, “shredding” it, causing a distinct luminous flare, UC Santa According to Cruz’s Nov. 10 press release.

The brutal feast, or ‘tidal disturbance event’, was captured in a dwarf galaxy 850 million light-years away by the Young Supernova Experiment (YSE), a survey that tracks cosmic explosions and ‘astrophysical transients’ : extreme and destructive events in the dark corners of outer space.

In the press release, university staff broke it down in simpler terms, explaining that “an undetected hidden intermediate-mass black hole in a dwarf galaxy revealed itself to astronomers when it engulfed a unlucky star that had strayed too far. Black holes are so difficult to detect that telescopes that capture X-rays or light can’t even capture them, according to NASA. However, images first taken in 2019 show that they appear to be dark objects surrounded by hot, glowing matter.

“We are in what I call the age of celestial cinematography,” Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz, a UC Santa Cruz professor who studies “the violent universe,” said in a phone call to SFGATE. . Although YSE has helped capture hundreds, if not thousands, of supernovae, he said, coming across a medium-sized black hole digesting a star was a pleasant surprise.

“We haven’t really found many of these small mass black holes, these elusive intermediate-mass black holes,” he said.

“It was something we didn’t expect,” laughed Ramirez-Ruiz.

A rendering of an unhappy star stumbling on its way to a black hole.

University of California Santa Cruz/Lick Observatory

These “exciting and unusual” disruptive events are rare, he added. Researchers would need to study 100,000 galaxies to see just one a year. Finding them, however, is important because they could shed light on some of astronomy’s most pressing questions — namely, how supermassive black holes form at the center of large galaxies, Ramirez-Ruiz said. According to NASA, even our own Milky Way galaxy has one of these behemoths at its heart.

Indeed, 2022 has been one hell of a year for black holes.

In June, researchers at UC Berkeley collected potential evidence of a “floating” ghost-like black hole drifting through space. Considered “one of the most exotic phenomena in astrophysics,” these objects have rightly captured the hearts of researchers across California.

Ramirez-Ruiz says YSE will continue to monitor the galaxies for more cosmic events.

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