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September 14, 2011

Supermassive Black Hole Swallows Star

Scientists recently had the opportunity to witness one of the most awe-inspiring events in space. Recently, Swift Observatory (which orbits the Earth), observed a huge burst of radiation. As it is programed to do, it alerted the scientists who operate it. After three more similar bursts were seen, scientists realized that such activity couldn't come from supernova as originally expected. Eventually they deduced that they were witnessing a black hole swallowing the mass of a nearby star, making them the first humans ever to get data on such an event. They suspect that the black hole is located in the center of a galaxy, an orbiting star got too close. As the star was getting swallowed, some of its plasma shot out, which is what Swift Observatory picked up on. Luckily for us here on Earth, we are in no danger from that black hole, which is over 4 billion light years away. Black holes are very hard to observe, since they do not usually give off any signs of their existence at all. This forces scientists to use indirect signals, such as gravitational influence. However, this is an opportunity to learn more about one of the most mysterious phenomenon in the universe. In fact, it could shed light on what may be Earth's eventual fate, since it is widely believed that the Milky Way has a supermassive black hole at its center as well. It's a small piece to the puzzle, but every one helps. You can read the original article by Amina Khan here: http://www.latimes.com/news/science/la-sci-black-hole-20110825,0,7532003.story?track=icymi

Posted by mgilbs at September 14, 2011 01:01 AM

Comments

I have actually worked on this object, or event, or whatever you want to call it.
One effort was to determine the mass of the black hole, which appears to be a few hundred thousand solar masses.
Another effort was to do an analysis of its energy spectrum and variability properties. Results from the latter effort are not consistent with the idea of a star getting disrupted, or not consistent with simple models of such an event anyway.
http://arxiv.org/abs/1106.2502
http://www.astronomerstelegram.org/?read=3447

Posted by: jonmm at September 15, 2011 09:23 AM

This is really cool. In the past, I did not even know Black hole exists in the universe. Once I watched TV, the discovery channel said black hole exists and in fact there are many of them, I was shocked by that fact. Your article is so attractive since the scene where a planet approached to black hole is finally being caught by the scientists.

Posted by: zhengxi at September 21, 2011 03:54 PM

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