What is “spaghetti”, scientists observed the moment in which a black hole devours a star

The cosmic recipe generated by spaghetti is something that has intrigued astronomers in recent years, but this 2020 is clearer than ever.

The ingredients came together before the eyes of the scientists; that is, in front of a chain of astronomical observatories, which detected a tidal disruption event (TDE) that occurred “only” 215 million light-years from Earth.

“It is the flash closest of its registered type so far, ”said scientists from the British Royal Astronomical Society who announced the results of their research on Monday.

The TDE provides those ingredients by which a cosmic object, such as a star, “undergoes” a process of spaghettiization (and by suffering we mean something truly catastrophic).

“The idea of a black hole ‘sucks in’ a star nearby sounds like science fiction. But this is exactly what happens in a tidal disruption event, ”says lead study author Dr. Matt Nicholl.

“We were able to investigate in detail what happens when such a monster eats a star,” he adds.

EHT Collaboration
This is the first photo of a black hole.

The study sheds new light on research into TDEs and how matter behaves in universe settings like that.

“It is relevant because we still have many questions about how matter behaves in the vicinity of a black hole and especially in such an intense gravitational field “, astrophysicist Ezequiel Treister tells BBC Mundo when giving his point of view on the research.

“This becomes an excellent laboratory to study this behavior ”.

How do you explain spaghetti?

Treister explains that spaghettiization begins when a star gets too close to a supermassive black hole.

“The gravitational attraction produced by the black hole makes the star lose its shape, its structure, to end up being destroyed and absorbed by the black hole. This generates the phenomenon of tidal disruption event ”, he indicates.

Matter is stretched by gravitational forces so that it ends up looking like a noodle. Begin to stretch and stretch.

An illustration of spaghetti

X-rays (in the lower graph) give the first indication that a TDE is occurring.

“When the star finishes falling into the black hole, there are a lot of effects. A large amount of energy can impact the galaxy and the environment that surrounds the hole ”, adds Treister, who is a professor at the Institute of Astrophysics at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile.

From the earth It can detect The phenomenon by the “energy flare” that is produced when a star is destroyed.

And they are usually rare and difficult to study, because a “curtain” of dust and debris is generated that makes observation difficult.

But what the scientists led by Nicholl saw was different.

Just in time

In the case of the TDE event identified as AT2019qiz, the ingredients for the spaghetti were put together at a very opportune moment.

In addition to the fact that the event seen by the researchers occurred about 200 million light years from Earth, it could be studied in “unprecedented” detail because was detected shortly after the star was shattered that generated it.

A series of telescopes

A network of world observatories, in which Chile is a leading country, allowed the sighting.

To make it used a chain of observatories for six months around the world: the Very Large Telescop of the European Southern Observatory, the New Technology Telescope, the Las Cumbres Observatory, and the Swift space observatory.

“Several analyzes of the sky discovered emissions from the new tidal interruption event very quickly after the star was torn apart,” explains Thomas Wevers when presenting the study through the University of Birmingham (UK).

“We immediately pointed a set of terrestrial and space telescopes in that direction to see how the light was produced,” adds the member of the European Southern Observatory.


Getty Images
Matter stretches so much that it creates the spaghetti effect, astrophysicists explain.

The star that produced it had a mass similar to that of the Sun. Nicholl explains that it lost half of that mass when interacting with the black hole, which is “a million times more massive.”

“Because we detected it early, we could see the curtain of dust and debris that rose when the black hole launched a powerful flow of material with speeds up to 10,000 kilometers per second“Said Kate Alexander, who collaborated on the study from the US.

The rare case of AT2019qiz could be a “Rosetta Stone” for interpreting future observations of TDE events.

Treister explains that the development of a global network of observatories, both on the ground – with the outstanding case of those located in Chile – and in space, has allowed scientists To jump “exponential ”in the investigation of these phenomena.

“This is key and relatively new in the sense that in order to really understand everything that happens in this process, one must combine different observations and therefore make use of several observatories,” he says.

“The ability to coordinate and use several observatories to follow these events when the alert is given is essential.”

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