A new video from NASA shows what it looks like when a star is caught in the powerful gravity of a black hole. In these binary systems, the doomed stars spin around the black holes, which steadily suck up gas from them. The visualisation illustrates the variety of these parasitic partnerships in our galactic backyard, including some particularly extreme examples — like MAXI J1659, in which the star completes a full orbit every 2.4 hours.
NASA showcases 22 of these systems, located either in our own Milky Way or in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a next-door galaxy that is around 160,000 light-years from Earth.
The relationship between a black hole and a star in one of these systems is parasitic, as the black hole consumes mass from its companion. In the visualisation (which features a super trippy synth-wave soundtrack), this is shown by the pronounced teardrop shape of some of the stars. NASA says that black holes collect star matter in one of two main ways: there could be a constant stream of stellar gas flowing directly into the black hole, or the black hole could be passively consuming the star’s stellar wind. This matter then forms the black hole’s accretion disk, which glows in visible, ultraviolet, and X-ray light.
The First Image of a Black Hole and Its Shadow
The first image ever taken of a black hole. This is Messier 87, as seen by the Event Horizon Telescope (image released in April 2019). (Image: Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration)
The galaxy NGC 5128 (left) is the source of a massive stream of radio waves (right), which are emitted from the supermassive black hole at the galaxy’s centre. (Image: NASA/TANAMI/Müller et al.)
TIE Fighter Galaxy
An artist’s rendition of TXS 0128, which bears resemblance to a TIE fighter from Star Wars when viewed at a specific radio frequency. A central black hole is responsible for the two jets. (Illustration: NASA’s Goodard Spaceflight Centre)