According to an article by Rafi Letzter, a black hole in a nearby galaxy recently devoured a whole star, turning it into “spaghetti.” The star was orbiting in the nucleus of the galaxy 2MASX J04463790-1013349 about 214 million years ago when it was sucked into its demise. At the center of the galaxy, lies a supermassive black hole. As the star made its way too close to the black hole, the black hole stretched it out through the process of spaghettification and consumed it. The light from this event reached Earth 214 million years later. Scientists had witnessed events like this in the past but never this close to home.
What is Spaghettfication?
Matt Nicholl, an astrophysicist from the University of Birmingham, describes this process of ‘consumption’ as a “tidal disruption event.” Spaghettification occurs because of the sharp increase in gravity when an object approaches a black hole. The gravity on side of the object (in this case a star) facing the hole is much stronger than the gravity on the other side. This difference in pull stretches out the object like spaghetti, hence the name spaghettification. Black holes’ consumption of stars reminds me of the role of lysosomes in the cell. Like black holes, lysosomes consume. They engulf dead organelles and other waste in the cell. In case you were wondering about the size of the star, it had about the same mass as our sun and lost half of that mass to the black hole!
Has Spaghettification Ever Been Witnessed in Its Entirety?
No, but this event was the closest scientists have ever gotten. The physical stretching process has never been seen; however, scientists did see a flash of light coming from the solar system, which is a sign of a tidal disruption event. When a star is ripped apart, some of its innards end up swirling around the black hole and shine briefly before disappearing into the hole. At the same time, clouds of material and dust blast out into space. This blast blocks parts of the black hole from being viewed. Over six months, the scientists watched, studied, and recorded the material flow into space as the tidal disruption faded. This rare sighting also confirmed the relationship between the flash and the blast of material.
Not only was this an interesting phenomenon, but the event, named AT 2019qiz, could help researchers discover more about tidal disruption events and the role of gravity in black holes.
Black holes are some of the most captivating scientific anomalies in existence. They exist all over the universe, yet scientists know very little about them. I’d love to hear your thoughts/questions in the comments! If you would like to research black holes further, here is some more usual information. Try not to get sucked in!