Astronomers have captured a black hole eating a star and then sicking a bit of it back up for the first time ever.
The scientists tracked a star about as big as our sun as it was pulled from its normal path and into that of a supermassive black hole before being eaten up. They then saw a high-speed flare get thrust out, escaping from the rim of the black hole.
Scientists have seen black holes killing and swallowing stars. And the jets have been seen before.
But a new study shows the first time that they have captured the hot flare that comes out just afterwards. And the flare and then swallowed star have not been linked together before.
"These events are extremely rare," Sjoert van Velzen, who led the analysis, said in a statement. "It's the first time we see everything from the stellar destruction followed by the launch of a conical outflow, also called a jet, and we watched it unfold over several months.
“Previous efforts to find evidence for these jets, including my own, were late to the game.”
Supermassive black holes are thought to exist on the edge of most massive galaxies. The one that was seen is towards the smaller end, at only a million times as big as our sun — but big enough to easily eat up a star.
The team made the study by learning about the first observation of a star being destroyed on Twitter, in December 2014. Straight after that, Mr van Velzen followed up on the black hole and used radio telescopes to capture the after-effects.
The team are now sure that the sudden burst of light that they saw came from a trapped star. They first had to rule out that it was coming from the “accretion disk” that is often seen when a star is newly-trapped.
"The destruction of a star by a black hole is beautifully complicated, and far from understood," van Velzen said. "From our observations, we learn the streams of stellar debris can organize and make a jet rather quickly, which is valuable input for constructing a complete theory of these events."
The galaxy itself is about 300 million light years away. Previously observed black holes have been about three times as far away.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies