Did Researchers Just Find a Terrifyingly Cool Black Hole “Feeding Frenzy”?First Published: February 15, 2017 Last updated: May 10th, 2017 Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes 1 comment
The idea of the Black Hole is one that we can all feel pretty comfortable with – just the idea. The reality, of course, would mean more or less total oblivion of the supposedly impregnable society we live in today. Within a matter of moments, a black hole would make everything that we know its dinner. Terrifying as that may be, though, the idea of a black hole is still a pretty cool concept.
It’s not just the fact they are so scary; it’s how they work that makes them so intriguing to most. The University of New Hampshire, one of the most impressive in its field, recently undertook a study into a black hole. They found one that had eviscerated a nearby star, and then fed off it like a pack of wolves for over a decade!
The reason why this is so exciting, though, is the decade part. In the past, the ‘conflict’ – as if the star could ever win – involved around one year of struggle. By that point, the planet was a mere glint in the eye of the black hole. This, though, seemed to be a meal that the black hole especially enjoyed given how long it took to devour the planet.
What does this mean, though? And why does the feeding habits of a black hole even matter?
In a recent journal titled Nature Astronomy, the New Hampshire team broke down their latest findings. The lead author of the piece, Dacheng Lin, said that they have “witnessed a star’s spectacular and prolonged demise” which is, really, as cool as it gets. This one gets such a big mention, though, because it’s pretty damn unique – out of our whole playlist of events like this, none are anywhere near as close as this.
The Long Meal
The black hole must really have been chewing its food this time because the time this took is immensely long. Research has discovered plenty of ‘tidal disruption’ events over the years, but not a single one has ever been anything like this. They never last anything like the same length of time as this one has.
Tidal disruption events are caused when tidal forces are created due to the intense gravity a black hole carries. These are so powerful that, in the right circumstances, they can rip a whole planet to shreds. Any star or planet that gets too close to this is bound to vanish into the ether, never to be seen again.
The majority of these events come to an end very quickly. However, sometimes it can result in debris being launched out from the cataclysm taking place and thrown away from the black hole. As the rest descends in, never to return as far as we know, other pieces are bulleted out and sent throughout space.
As the material is gobbled up by the black hole, it heats up to such a level that it helps to create a magnificently detailed X-ray flare. The millions of degrees can leave a searing heat and create a visible flare in the skies.
That alone makes this a pretty interesting finding. It points to at the very least a massively different kind of process to the one that we have observed so much in the past. Or, is something else going on here?
Having looked at three orbital X-Ray telescopes, including the Chandra-X Ray of NASA alongside the ESA’s own XMM-Newton, this provided some rather interesting new insights. With this high-velocity equipment, they were able to spot the fireworks display going on.
VIDEO: A Quick Look at XJ1500+0154
What This Means
Having been spotted using the satellites mentioned, captures of multi-wavelength flares have been spotted. The reason why these are so useful is it’s one of the few features that we know about that can give us an insight into a black hole.
Black hole studies are, as you might imagine, a bit difficult to get anything too heavily verified to appear with. Especially given that in the past these flares were so quick to succumb to the hole itself that it would not survive long enough to properly study, finding any discernible details has proven a significant challenge.
Within a single year, they would more or less have fizzled out and left nothing behind. These new x-ray flares have put up more of a fight than the ones in the past, though, and have been burning with a persistent brightness for around one whole decade. As such, they have provided a greater insight into the resistance levels a planet can have against a black hole.
The long bright phase means that it’s likely that the star was the largest we’ve ever found being eaten up, or it’s the first time we’ve watched a tiny star be destroyed to the very last grain. Either way, the idea is pretty terrifying; and proof that black holes are definitely something to be feared.
This black hole was found 1.8 billion light years from our planet, so it’s not exactly next door. However, it’s close enough to have been spotted and big enough to be worth noting within the scientific community
Breaking the Barriers
Another major factor about this finding is that the levels of radiation from the surrounding materials around the black hole defy our own status. A limit known as the Eddington Limit has been looked at as a defined end level for radiation. It was supposed to be a balance between the outward pressure of radiation via hot gas, and inward pull of the black holes own gravity.
The end result was that we apparently had a defined level of radiation that we would expect to see. This black hole, though, sails beyond these limitations with absolute ease.
The fact that it appears that black holes have the capacity to grow larger, whether it’s from absorbing tidal disruption events or by other means, is a significant finding. We once thought that, if nothing else, we had a pretty good measure of the radiation power that would hang around a black hole.
This star, though, bursts way beyond these old limits set by the Eddington Limit. It might explain why mass levels over one billion times the power of our own sun were possible even when the universe was a ‘mere’ billion years in age.
Research models are positive, though, that this black hole is running out of food. Therefore, it should slow down and gradually begin to dissipate. Given the way that black holes keep outliving our expectations and changing on us, though, that might not be the case just yet.