This monster black hole jet has 125 billion times more energy than the Sun

In the two colliding galaxies Arp 299, researchers spotted evidence of a supermassive black hole destroying a nearby star, pulling the debris in orbit around the disk, and emit a powerful beam of the particles to the outside. The background photo is a view of the colliding galaxies from the Hubble Space Telescope; artist’s concept of the black hole system is drawn.

(Sophia Dagnello/NRAO/AUI/NSF/NASA/STScI)

A fabric wrapped, giant black hole tear apart a star blown away in a superfast jet of particles, which packed about 125 billion times the amount of energy that the sun releases per year, a new study found.

This is the first time that astronomers have directly imaged the formation and evolution of such a jet from a black hole. This finding may help astronomers discover many new cases of black holes, destroy stars.

Supermassive black hole millions to billions times the mass of the sun are thought to lurk in the hearts of the most, if not all, large galaxies. If a star comes too close to such a monstrous black hole, the powerful attraction it will tear into a so-called tidal disruption event. [Images: Black Holes of the Universe]

If a black hole tears material out of a star, this material forms a rotating disk that glows brightly before it falls into the black hole. Previous research has also suggested that the jets of particles are launched on the basis of the poles of these so-called accretion disks at extremely high speeds.

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Most times, supermassive black holes are not active to devour everything, the new study, researchers told The small number of tidal disruption events that astronomers have discovered so far offer scientists the opportunity to learn more about the formation and evolution of these jets.

The first evidence that the researchers had this recently well-known jet came on Jan. 30, 2005, astronomers using the William Herschel Telescope in the Canary Islands to analyse of a pair of colliding galaxies called Arp 299, nearly 150 million light-years from Earth. They discovered a bright burst of infrared light that comes from the core of one of the colliding galaxies Arp 299, study co-lead author Seppo Mattila, University of Turku in Finland, told

On 17 July 2005, using the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA), a network of 10 radio telescopes spread over thousands of kilometers, that can work together, in essence, acts as a giant radio telescope, scientists discovered that a new source of radio emissions from the same location in the Arp 299.

“As time went on, the new object still remained bright at infrared and radio wavelengths, but not in visible light and x-rays,” Mattila said in a statement. “The most likely explanation is that thick interstellar gas and dust near the galaxy’s center absorbed the X-rays and visible light, reflected infrared,” Mattila said.

The researchers originally thought that this eruption was a star explode in a supernova, but that statement is not consistent with the data. Continuous monitoring over almost a decade proved to be the source of radio emissions, also known as Arp 299-B, AT1, to extend in one direction, just as would be expected for a jet, but not a supernova. Radio data suggested that the material in the jet ran out to an average of about 25 percent the speed of light. In contrast, the average growth speed of a supernova-after 10 years, it is expected that, at most, about 5 percent of the speed of light, study co-lead author Miguel Pérez-Torres of the Astrophysical Institute of Andalucia in Granada, Spain, told

“We continued to patiently gather more and more data to distinguish it from the true nature of this source, and our patience has paid off,” Mattila said. “The combination of our infrared and radio observations, in combination with state-of-the-art simulations of radio jets and calculations of the infrared emission from the dusty environment of a supermassive black hole, and left us with a plausible explanation — the infrared and radio emission originating from the disruption of an unhappy star is swallowed by the supermassive black hole when it passed too close to this cosmic monster.”

The researchers estimate that this jet is the result of a supermassive black hole that was 20 million times the mass of the sun. The black hole is located in the heart of one of the two colliding galaxies and was in the act of destroying a star that was more than two times that of the sun’s mass. “We have never had to directly observe the formation and evolution of a radius of one of these events,” Pérez-Torres said in a statement. [No Escape: Dive Into a Black Hole (Infographic)]

The new findings were a surprise, the scientists said. Arp 299-B AT1 was discovered as part of a project that tried to detect supernova explosions in colliding pairs of galaxies. This infrared burst was originally thought to be a supernova explosion — it was only in 2011, six years after the eruption of the discovery, that Arp 299-B AT1 began the stretch that went on to reveal that it is a jet and not a supernova.

In the course of about a decade, the jet released more than 1.5 x 10^52 ergs of energy in the infrared and radio waves, the researchers said. This is about 125 billion times the amount of energy that the sun releases per year.

With the help of the VLBA, now the scientists are a “witness of how the radio source is now breaking up into several independent sources that tell us how the interaction of the jet with the surrounding medium,” Pérez-Torres said.

The event was not bright in the visible or X-ray wavelengths, probably because the effects of gas and dust, the scientists noted. This may help to explain why tidal disruption events are not as clear-cut as theoretically predicted, they added.

“How many similar events we are missing in the dusty centers of galaxies that would only be detected by infrared and radio observations, but are completely invisible in optical light?” Mattila said.

These new findings suggest that infrared and radio telescopes can detect many tidal disruption events that escaped detection until now because the dust absorbed the visible light from them, Pérez-Torres said. Such events are more common in the early universe, so investigating them could help scientists understand the newborn cosmos, the researchers added.

The scientists detailed their findings online June 15 in the journal Science.

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