|Manu||Date: Thursday, 15-December-2016, 5:21 PM | Message # 1|
Belfast-based astronomers have helped to discover a very rare celestial event - a star being "swallowed" after it passed too close to a black hole.
Queen's University, Belfast, (QUB) was involved in a European project to solve the mystery of an "extraordinarily brilliant" light in a distant galaxy.
Last year, US scientists assumed that the light came from an exploding star.
But after studying it for 10 months, QUB astronomers believe the star was ripped apart by a spinning black hole.
Black holes are regions of space where gravity is so powerful that even light cannot escape.
The largest type of black hole is referred to as "supermassive" and the one under examination is believed to have a mass of "at least 100m times that of the sun", according to QUB.
The team from QUB's Astrophysics Research Centre was involved in gathering months of data from a selection of telescopes, both on earth and in space, including the Hubble space telescope.
The light source, named ASASSN-15lh, was initially categorised in the US in 2015 as the brightest supernova (exploding star) ever seen.
However, QUB Professor Stephen Smartt, said: "We observed it and thought: 'Nah, it doesn't look like a supernova to us.'"
Prof Smartt is the leader and principal investigator of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) project, based in Chile.
"We've a big group at Queen's," he told BBC Radio Ulster's Evening Extra programme.
"We work in the School of Maths and Physics at Queen's and our speciality is looking for things that move - like asteroids that might hit the earth, or things that flash, which might be supernova or these black holes."
He said the light "puzzled us for months" but based on their telescopic observations, the QUB team proposed a new explanation for the object in a galaxy far, far away.
It believes the sun-like star wandered too close to the black hole and was "ripped apart", a phenomenon known in astronomy as a "tidal disruption event".
In the process, the star was "spaghettified and some of the material was converted into huge amounts of radiated light," said a QUB statement.
"This gave the event the appearance of a very bright supernova explosion, even though the star would not have become a supernova on its own as it did not have enough mass."
Read more/full article/source - http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-38292733