Massive Black Hole Spotted Killing Star By 'Spaghettifying' It

The end result is surely a mesmerizing image.
Loukia Papadopoulos
The photo credit line may appear like thisNASA/CXC/M. Weiss

Black holes are known for gobbling everything up that is within their vicinity and stars are no exception. But in this new observation of a black hole swallowing a dying star comes an image that is hard to ignore and it is caused by the black hole pulling on the star.

"The extreme gravity of the black hole pulls so much harder at one side of the star than at the other side that it rips the star apart. Astronomers like to call this process spaghettification, but in scientific publications, they reluctantly stick with the official term Tidal Disruption Event," write SRON researchers in a posting about the relatively new phenomenon.

Star deaths are always violent (isn't death in general, after all?) but spaghettification is on another level. As the star gets sucked into the black hole, it releases the debris that forms a long thin film, kind of resembling a spaghetti noodle (hence the term spaghettification).

This event marks the first time that astronomers have witnessed these spaghetti-like films. "It was already evident that black holes can have a disk of accreted material around their equator, but absorption lines above a black hole's pole suggest there is a long strand wrapped many times all around the black hole, like a yarn ball: the actual material ligament from a freshly torn star," continue to SRON researchers.

An animation has been created (embedded below) to show just what this process looks like and we must admit it's quite a sight to see. In the illustration, you can clearly see the black hole's gravity pulling more strongly on the side of the star closer to the black hole. The black hole seems to first rip the star apart and then suck all its matter in, in the shape of a long thin spaghetti noodle.

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The phenomenon was spotted by lead author Giacomo Cannizzaro (SRON/Radboud University) and if time proves his theories correct, the event would be the first time we had proof of spaghettification occurring. These are exciting times for space exploration indeed!

The study is published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.