NASA Telescopes Observes a Massive Black Hole

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) telescopes recently observed a massive black hole devouring a star, an astronomical phenomenon known as a tidal disruption event (TDE). This particular TDE, called AT2021ehb, took place 250 million light-years from Earth in the center of another galaxy and was the fifth-closest example of a black hole destroying a star ever observed.

What is a Tidal Disruption Event (TDE)?

A tidal force is the difference in the strength of gravity between two points. If the tidal force exerted on a body is greater than the intermolecular force that holds it together, the body will get disrupted. During a TDE, the tidal force of a black hole disrupts a nearby star. About half of the star's debris continues on its original path, while the other half is attracted by the black hole's gravitational pull. The gradual growth of this material bound to the black hole produces a short-lived flare of emission, known as a tidal disruption event.

Observing AT2021ehb

The TDE known as AT2021ehb was first spotted on March 1, 2021 by the Zwicky Transient Facility in Southern California. About 300 days later, NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescopic Array (NuSTAR), the most sensitive space telescope capable of observing high-energy X-rays, began observing the system. During the event, scientists detected the formation of a corona, an extremely hot structure above the black hole, as indicated by a dramatic rise in high-energy X-ray light once the star was completely ruptured by the black hole's gravity.

The Importance of Studying TDEs

TDEs are of great interest to astronomers because of their observability and short duration, as well as the opportunity to study the impact of a black hole's gravity on materials around it. They are also an important tool in understanding how black holes influence their environments. In the case of AT2021ehb, the proximity of the TDE provided a spectacular view of the corona's formation and evaluation. However, scientists are still unsure where the plasma in the corona comes from or exactly how it gets so hot. Coronae usually appear with jets of gas that flow in the opposite direction from a black hole, but in the case of AT2021ehb, there were no jets observed.

Written by princy

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