ESO detects the rare absorption of a star by a black hole

Image provided by the European Southern Observatory (ESO), which shows an illustration of what a star devoured by a black hole must be like, which then expels its remains in the form of a jet. EFE/EPA/ESO/M.Kornmesser / HANDOUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES.

The European Southern Observatory (ESO) has detected the most distant case ever recorded of a rare episode in which a star is devoured by a black hole that then expels its remains in the form of a jet.

According to an ESO statement, it started earlier this year when ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) was alerted after a survey telescope observed an unusual source of light. The VLT was then oriented toward the source, which turned out to be a supermassive black hole from a distant galaxy that had gobbled up a star and then ejected the leftovers in a jet.

The VLT team determined that this is the farthest case ever observed of such an event. Also, because the jet is pointing toward Earth, it’s the first time visible light can be seen to be detected, or it opens up a new way to detect those extreme events. In about 1% of cases, the remains of devoured stars are ejected in the form of a jet from the poles of the black hole.

“It’s like a tube of toothpaste that you squeeze hard in the middle and cause the system to eject matter from both ends,” said pioneering black hole researcher John Wheeler, who first used the black hole, in 1971. concept of TDE, an astronomical phenomenon that occurs when a star enters the area of ​​influence of a supermassive black hole. Nial Tanvir, a professor at the University of Leicester who led the VLT observations, said jet TDEs remain “very exotic and little-known” events.

“Therefore the astronomical community is constantly looking for these extreme events to understand how the jets are actually created and why such a small fraction of TDE produces them,” he added. Many telescopes, including the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) in the US, continually look for signs that point to it that can then be studied more deeply by larger telescopes such as ESO’s VLY, installed in Chile.

In February of this year, the ZTF detected a new source of visible light. The event, called AT2022cmc, was reminiscent of a gamma-ray burst, the most powerful light source in the universe.

The prospect of witnessing this rare phenomenon led the team to activate several telescopes around the world to observe the mysterious source in more detail, which included ESO’s VLT. The VLT data placed the source at an unprecedented distance for these events: the light produced by AT2022cmc began its journey when the universe was about a third of its current age.