A black hole in a galaxy not far from Earth gobbled up a star like it was a big, exploding noodle, and astronomers got a front-row seat to the action.
The “unfortunate star,” as the researchers called it in their paper, was orbiting in the dense nucleus of a galaxy with the unwieldy name 2MASX J04463790-1013349 about 214 million years ago when it found itself on a doomed path. It had wandered too close to the galaxy’s central, supermassive black hole. And that black hole stretched it out like spaghetti and swallowed it one big gulp. (Scientists literally call this process “spaghettification.”) Light from this act of stellar cannibalism reached Earth in 2019. Researchers have detected events like this before, but never so soon after the destruction and never so nearby. The black hole ate its noodly plasma dinner just 214 light-years from Earth.
“The idea of a black hole ‘sucking in’ a nearby star sounds like science fiction. But this is exactly what happens in a tidal disruption event,” Matt Nicholl, a University of Birmingham astrophysicist and lead author of the paper, said in a statement.