A bright flare of light from over 700 million light-years away, emitted from the heart of a galaxy, was the dying electromagnetic scream of a star as it was torn apart and partly devoured by a black hole about 5 million times the mass of the Sun, and a new analysis has shown that it underwent the process of ‘Spaghettification’ when it died.
Stellar deaths are usually brutal events, but death by Spaghettification is considered to be the most violent of them all. It occurs when a star roams a little too close to a black hole, and the tidal force of its gravitational field pulls the star so hard that it ends up being torn apart, better known as a tidal disruption event.
As the star is torn apart, some of the leftover debris forms a long, thin thread of material a bit like a Spaghetti noodle that spools into a thin filament that coils around and gets fed by the black hole.
We can detect this process because it gives out a bright flash of light produced by gravitational and frictional forces in the accretion disk around the black hole. This light progressively fades as the material is exhausted.
A global team of astronomers directed by Giacomo Cannizzaro and Peter Jonker of the Netherlands Institute for Space Research analyzed the electromagnetic output and discovered absorption lines.
Astronomers take images of light, if that light has traveled through something that slows or blocks some wavelengths, such as gas or dust, then it will show up as dark lines on the spectrum.
They show up in all kinds of areas, but the poles of supermassive black holes are not usually amongst them. Accretion disks usually orbit the equatorial region like Saturn’s rings and straight down the pole is normally somewhat clear.
The variation among them and the width of these absorption lines are weird too. The observed arrangement seems to suggest various strands of material, like a sphere of string.
The researchers wrote in their paper that “When a star is disrupted, the debris may form strongly self-gravitating streams, what they would be seeing is absorption lines caused by such streams, where the different orbital motions and projected velocities of the different streams cause the variation for the width of the absorption lines.”
If the team’s description of Spaghettification happens to be correct, it would be the very first time we have had actual evidence of this process happening.
You can read the study is published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.