Astronomers have observed a black hole so massive and hungry that it has been feeding upon the same giant star for nearly a decade – ten times longer than previously observed star-killing black holes. According to their recent open source publication on arXiv.org, the astronomers believe that their data indicate that they are either witnessing the death of the largest star ever to be torn apart by a black hole or the first time a smaller star has been completely torn to cosmic shreds by these ravenous black hole.
The radiation cloud surrounding the supermassive black hole exceeds what physicists call the Eddington limit – the point at which a black hole’s gravity and its radiation’s outward expansion cancel each other out. Co-author James Guillochon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics stated in a Chandra center press release that the duration of growth of the radiation cloud is unprecedented:
For most of the time we’ve been looking at this object, it has been growing rapidly. This tells us something unusual — like a star twice as heavy as our Sun — is being fed into the black hole.
The discovery was made by the Chandra X-ray observatory, a satellite-based NASA telescope which utilizes special X-ray telescopes to peer much farther into the blackness of space into places where light does not – or cannot – go. Light cannot escape the gravitational pull of black holes, but X-rays can – up to a certain point. Data collected by the Chandra observatory is providing a much bigger glimpse into the mysteries of the universe than optical telescopes ever have.
Just last year, the X-ray observatory detected two strange, unknown objects sending out X-rays at a level never seen before in space. Oh yeah, not to mention Chandra’s discovery of massive, wandering black holes which can tear right through a galaxy without even blinking an eye. I could have slept better without knowing that one.