News & Opinion | June 15, 2018 9:58 am

Scientists Just Watched a Supermassive Black Hole Swallow a Star

In a historic first, astronomers witnessed a "tidal disruption event" in real time.

Artist's rendering of what occurs when a star drifts too close to a black hole. (Sophia Dagnello, NRAO/AUI/NSF; NASA, STSCI)
Artist's rendering of what occurs when a star drifts too close to a black hole. (Sophia Dagnello, NRAO/AUI/NSF; NASA, STSCI)

A supermassive black hole 20 million times larger than our Sun recently consumed a star that drifted too close to it, Mashable reports. For the first time, astronomers were able to watch as the star spewed x-rays, visible light and material in an eruption that took place 150 million light years away. The process of a black hole eating up a star is called a tidal disruption event, and scientists think it might actually be happening more often than we think.

“Because of the dust that absorbed any visible light, this particular tidal disruption event may be just the tip of the iceberg of what until now has been a hidden population,” Seppo Mattila, of the University of Turku in Finland, told the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in a statement. “By looking for these events with infrared and radio telescopes, we may be able to discover many more, and learn from them.”