Telescope Network at Ohio State University Shows a Star Being Torn Apart in the Grips of a Black Hole

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NASA
  • NASA
A network of telescopes based at The Ohio State University helped researchers there and elsewhere around the country record an astonishing and rare sight: a star being shredded by a black hole.

Scientists, including some at OSU, published their findings about the event in The Astrophysical Journal last week.



Images captured by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite with the help of OSU-based All Sky Automated Survey for SuperNovae Network in July 2018 are among the most detailed ever recorded of such an occurrence, which scientists call a tidal disruption event.

The telescopes helped researchers identify the disruption event — basically, when a star gets close enough to a black hole to get distorted into a long strand but not so close that it is simply immediately swallowed up — quickly enough to capture it in detail. The star destroyed by the black hole was believed to be roughly the size of our sun and was 375 million light-years from Earth in a constellation called Volans.



Those events only happen about once every 10,000 years at best in a galaxy the size of the Milky Way, researchers say. Because there are many galaxies in the universe, researchers have been able to observe about 40 of the events in recorded history.

Ohio State University Astronomy Professor Chris Kochanek is one of the authors of the just-published research about the black hole. He says a number of improbable circumstances must align to create an event like the one researchers witnessed with the help of the telescope network.

“Imagine that you are standing on top of a skyscraper downtown, and you drop a marble off the top, and you are trying to get it to go down a hole in a manhole cover,” he said in a news release from OSU. “It’s harder than that.”

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