Black Hole Caught in a Feeding Frenzy
May 04, 2012
Cambridge, MA - When it comes to scary things in the universe, it's hard to get much scarier than supermassive black holes. These gigantic, invisible menaces lurk in the centers of galaxies, hungrily vacuuming up everything within reach - or so we think. But the truth is more benign. Supermassive black holes snack infrequently, making the recent discovery of a black hole in the act of feeding all the more exciting to astronomers.
"Black holes, like sharks, suffer from a popular misconception that they are perpetual killing machines," said Ryan Chornock of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). "Actually, they're quiet for most of their lives. Occasionally a star wanders too close, and that's when a feeding frenzy begins."
Chornock and his colleagues, led by Suvi Gezari of Johns Hopkins University, reported their discovery of a feeding supermassive black hole in the May 3 issue of the journal Nature.
If a star passes too close to a black hole, tidal forces can rip it apart. Its constituent gases then swirl in toward the black hole. Friction heats the gases and causes them to glow. By searching for newly glowing supermassive black holes, astronomers can spot them in the midst of a feast.
The team discovered just such a glow on May 31, 2010 using the Pan-STARRS1 telescope on Mount Haleakala in Hawaii. The flare brightened to a peak on July 12th before fading away over the course of a year.
"We observed the demise of a star and its digestion by the black hole in real time," said Harvard co-author Edo Berger.
The glow came from a previously dormant supermassive black hole at the center of a galaxy 2.7 billion light-years away. The black hole contains as much mass as 3 million suns, making it about the same size as the Milky Way's central black hole.
Follow-up observations with the MMT Observatory in Arizona showed that the black hole was consuming large amounts of helium. Therefore, the shredded star likely was the core of a red giant star. The lack of hydrogen showed that the star lost its outer atmosphere on a previous pass by the black hole.
"This star barely survived one encounter with the black hole, only to meet its unfortunate end in round two," said Chornock.
The discovery demonstrates the sleuthing power of the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS), which was designed to locate all kinds of transient phenomena in the night sky.
Headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) is a joint collaboration between the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Harvard College Observatory. CfA scientists, organized into six research divisions, study the origin, evolution and ultimate fate of the universe.
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Related Black Hole Current Events and Black Hole News ArticlesScientists discover how supermassive black holes keep galaxies turned off
An international team of scientists has identified a common phenomenon in galaxies that could explain why huge numbers of them turn into cosmic graveyards.Supermassive black holes in 'red geyser' galaxies cause galactic warming
An international team of scientists, including the University of Kentucky's Renbin Yan, have uncovered a new class of galaxies, called "red geysers," with supermassive black hole winds so hot and energetic that stars can't form. Supermassive black hole wind can stop new stars from forming
Scientists have uncovered a new class of galaxies with supermassive black hole winds that are energetic enough to suppress future star formation. Hubble finds clues to the birth of supermassive black holes
Astrophysicists have taken a major step forward in understanding how supermassive black holes formed. Using data from Hubble and two other space telescopes, Italian researchers have found the best evidence yet for the seeds that ultimately grow into these cosmic giants.NASA scientist suggests possible link between primordial black holes and dark matter
Dark matter is a mysterious substance composing most of the material universe, now widely thought to be some form of massive exotic particle. Astrophysicists from the IAC discover an intense wind in the neighborhood of a black hole
V404 Cygni is a black hole within a binary system located in the constellation of Cygnus. In such systems, of which less than 50 are known, a black hole of around 10 times the mass of the Sun is swallowing material from a very nearby star, its companion star.Hubble spies a spiral snowflake
Together with irregular galaxies, spiral galaxies make up approximately 60 percent of the galaxies in the local universe. Intense wind found in the neighborhood of a black hole
An international team of astrophysicists, including Professor Phil Charles from the University of Southampton, have detected an intense wind from one of the closest known black holes to the Earth. UCI astronomers determine precise mass of a giant black hole
Astronomers from the University of California, Irvine and other universities have derived a highly precise measurement of the mass of a black hole at the center of a nearby giant elliptical galaxy.NASA's Fermi Telescope helps link cosmic neutrino to blazar blast
Nearly 10 billion years ago, the black hole at the center of a galaxy known as PKS B1424-418 produced a powerful outburst. Light from this blast began arriving at Earth in 2012.
More Black Hole Current Events and Black Hole News Articles
Black Hole (Pantheon Graphic Novels)|
by Charles Burns (Author)
Winner of the Eisner, Harvey, and Ignatz Awards
The setting: suburban Seattle, the mid-1970s. We learn from the outset that a strange plague has descended upon the area’s teenagers, transmitted by sexual contact. The disease is manifested in any number of ways — from the hideously grotesque to the subtle (and concealable) — but once you’ve got it, that’s it. There’s no turning back.
As we inhabit the heads of several key characters — some kids who have it, some who don’t, some who are about to get it — what unfolds isn’t the expected battle to fight the plague, or bring heightened awareness to it , or even to treat it. What we become witness to instead is a fascinating and eerie portrait of the nature of high school alienation itself — the savagery,...
Black Hole: How an Idea Abandoned by Newtonians, Hated by Einstein, and Gambled On by Hawking Became Loved|
by Marcia Bartusiak (Author)
The contentious history of the idea of the black hole—the most fascinating and bizarre celestial object in the heavens
For more than half a century, physicists and astronomers engaged in heated dispute over the possibility of black holes in the universe. The weirdly alien notion of a space-time abyss from which nothing escapes—not even light—seemed to confound all logic. This engrossing book tells the story of the fierce black hole debates and the contributions of Einstein and Hawking and other leading thinkers who completely altered our view of the universe.
Renowned science writer Marcia Bartusiak shows how the black hole helped revive Einstein’s greatest achievement, the general theory of relativity, after decades during which it had been pushed into the...
Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries|
by Neil deGrasse Tyson (Author)
“[Tyson] tackles a great range of subjects . . . with great humor, humility, and―most important― humanity.” ―Entertainment Weekly Loyal readers of the monthly "Universe" essays in Natural History magazine have long recognized Neil deGrasse Tyson's talent for guiding them through the mysteries of the cosmos with clarity and enthusiasm. Bringing together more than forty of Tyson's favorite essays, ?Death by Black Hole? explores a myriad of cosmic topics, from what it would be like to be inside a black hole to the movie industry's feeble efforts to get its night skies right. One of America's best-known astrophysicists, Tyson is a natural teacher who simplifies the complexities of astrophysics while sharing his infectious fascination for our...
Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space|
by Janna Levin (Author)
The authoritative story of the headline-making discovery of gravitational waves—by an eminent theoretical astrophysicist and award-winning writer.
From the author of How the Universe Got Its Spots and A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines, the epic story of the scientific campaign to record the soundtrack of our universe.
Black holes are dark. That is their essence. When black holes collide, they will do so unilluminated. Yet the black hole collision is an event more powerful than any since the origin of the universe. The profusion of energy will emanate as waves in the shape of spacetime: gravitational waves. No telescope will ever record the event; instead, the only evidence would be the sound of spacetime ringing. In 1916, Einstein predicted the existence of...
Black Holes: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)|
by Katherine Blundell (Author)
Black holes are a constant source of fascination to many due to their mysterious nature. This Very Short Introduction, addresses a variety of questions, including what a black hole actually is, how they are characterized and discovered, and what would happen if you came too close to one.
Professor Katherine Blundell looks at the seemingly paradoxical, mysterious, and intriguing phenomena of black holes. Outlining their nature and characteristics, both those resulting from the spectacular collapse of heavy stars, and the giant black holes found at the centres of galaxies, she separates scientific fact from science fiction, and demonstrates the important role they play in the cosmos.
ABOUT THE SERIES:
The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains...
Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein's Outrageous Legacy (Commonwealth Fund Book Program)|
by Kip S. Thorne (Author), Stephen Hawking (Foreword)
Ever since Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity burst upon the world in 1915 some of the most brilliant minds of our century have sought to decipher the mysteries bequeathed by that theory, a legacy so unthinkable in some respects that even Einstein himself rejected them. Which of these bizarre phenomena, if any, can really exist in our universe? Black holes, down which anything can fall but from which nothing can return; wormholes, short spacewarps connecting regions of the cosmos; singularities, where space and time are so violently warped that time ceases to exist and space becomes a kind of foam; gravitational waves, which carry symphonic accounts of collisions of black holes billions of years ago; and time machines, for traveling backward and forward in time.
The Black Hole War: My Battle with Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics|
by Leonard Susskind (Author)
At the beginning of the 21st century, physics is being driven to very unfamiliar territory--the domain of the incredibly small and the incredibly heavy. The new world is a world in which both quantum mechanics and gravity are equally important. But mysteries remain. One of the biggest involved black holes. Famed physicist Stephen Hawking claimed that anything sucked in a black hole was lost forever. For three decades, Leonard Susskind and Hawking clashed over the answer to this problem. Finally, in 2004, Hawking conceded.
THE BLACK HOLE WAR will explain the mind-blowing science that finally won out, and the emergence of a new paradigm that argues the world--this catalog, your home, your breakfast, you--is actually a hologram projected from the edges of...
Black Holes (True Books: Space (Paperback))|
by Ker Than (Author)
- Clean new design for easy readability and comprehension
- Updated text presented in a lively, continuous narrative
- New center-spread "sidebar" feature presenting material in a fun, creative way
- Excellent age-appropriate introduction to curriculum-relevant subjects
- "Important Words" glossary clarifies subject-specific vocabulary
- "Resources" section encourages independent study
- Index makes navigating subject matter easy
Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays|
by Stephen W. Hawking (Author)
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
THIRTEEN EXTRAORDINARY ESSAYS SHED NEW LIGHT ON THE MYSTERIES OF THE UNIVERSE—AND ON ONE OF THE MOST BRILLIANT THINKERS OF OUR TIME.
In his phenomenal bestseller A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking literally transformed the way we think about physics, the universe, reality itself. In these thirteen essays and one remarkable extended interview, the man widely regarded as the most brilliant theoretical physicist since Einstein returns to reveal an amazing array of possibilities for understanding our universe.
Building on his earlier work, Hawking discusses imaginary time, how black holes can give birth to baby universes, and scientists’ efforts to find a complete unified theory that would predict everything in the universe. With his...
A Black Hole Is Not a Hole|
by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano (Author), Michael Carroll (Illustrator)
Get ready to S-T-R-E-T-C-H your mind!
What is a black hole? Where do they come from? How were they discovered? Can we visit one? Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano takes readers on a ride through the galaxies (ours, and others), answering these questions and many more about the phenomenon known as a black hole.
In lively and often humorous text, the book starts off with a thorough explanation of gravity and the role it plays in the formation of black holes. Paintings by Michael Carroll, coupled with real telescopic images, help readers visualize the facts and ideas presented in the text, such as how light bends, and what a supernova looks like.
A BLACK HOLE IS NOT A HOLE is an excellent introduction to an extremely complex scientific concept. Back matter includes a timeline...