Black Holes Observed Ripping Apart 18 Stars by Astronomers

A recent paper has revealed the discovery of 18 new tidal events, caused by the immense gravitational pull of black holes, which has effectively doubled the number of known events where stars have been torn apart by these cosmic phenomena. Black holes are formed when massive stars exhaust their nuclear fuel and collapse under their own gravity.

The research paper was authored by Megan Masterson and her team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). They announced these new “stellar graveyards”, the sites where stars have been disintegrated by the gravitational forces of black holes. These occurrences are scientifically referred to as Tidal Disruption Events (TDEs), which release bursts of energy across the electromagnetic spectrum.

These events were previously detected by observing visual and x-ray radiation, leading to the discovery of 12 TDEs. The team from MIT, however, took an unconventional approach by searching for infrared signals instead. When a star is torn apart by a black hole, it emits radiation in all directions. In galaxies filled with dust, this energy can be absorbed by the dust, causing it to heat up and emit infrared radiation. This served as the signal for the team in identifying the unseen TDEs.

The researchers sifted through historical data of infrared observations and detected the nearest TDE yet in the galaxy NGC7392, located 137 million light years away. They also examined archive infrared data from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, which has been scanning for transient infrared events since 2009. They cross-referenced the detected event locations with a catalog of all known nearby galaxies within 600 million light years, tracing the host galaxies.

The team’s methodology involved ruling out other possible sources of the detected bursts, such as active galactic nuclei or supernova explosions. Once these were excluded, they analyzed the signals for the characteristic indicators of a TDE – a sharp spike followed by a gradual decline.

The researchers’ innovative approach to hunting for TDEs in the infrared spectrum has yielded successful results, contributing significantly to the scientific understanding of these cosmic events. Additionally, this research has led to the development of new techniques that aid in the identification of TDEs.

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