Look at this star turned into a fire dragon by a single point of nothingness with the mass of three million suns — its body twisted and deformed as a black beast 2.7 billion light-years away devours it with infinite hunger.
The image has been published in Nature along with photos directly taken by NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer and the Pan-STARRS1 telescope in Mount Haleakala in Hawaii. It was created from data collected in real time since 2009. The astronomers have been closely observing this event since the very beginning, which is quite exceptional: this is a rarely observed phenomenon that has only been detected once before.
In fact, according to the paper co-author Ryan Chornock — of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics — “black holes, like sharks, suffer from a popular misconception that they are perpetual killing machines. Actually, they’re quiet for most of their lives. Occasionally a star wanders too close, and that’s when a feeding frenzy begins.”
Which is exactly what the images and the data show. Apparently, says Chornock, “this star barely survived one encounter with the black hole, only to meet its unfortunate end in round two”. As it sucked the star in, the supermassive blackhole — comparable in mass to the one in the centre of our galaxy — also ejected gas at high speeds into space.
I want to see this close. Interstellar travel is not coming soon enough. [Smithsonian Science]