Zombie Black Hole Reanimated: Nearby Star Wakes Dormant Monster, Gets Devoured

Apparently sleeping dogs aren’t the only entities in the universe one should leave be, because scientists have found evidence of a zombie black hole having devoured a nearby star after said star’s energy reanimated the dormant monster. The gravitational destruction of the star happened nearly four billion years ago in a galaxy far, far away (true story). And it is the first time researchers have ever seen evidence of a reanimated black hole.

Blastr reported last week that NASA’s Swift Satellite just recently detected X-rays emanating from a dying star (designation Swift J1644+57) that was literally being torn apart by a black hole that had been previously dormant up until energy radiating from the star nudged it awake. But as it fed off the new energy, the black hole became reanimated, stronger, revivified, and, unfortunately for the star, was able to overpower the star’s own gravitational cohesiveness. In short, like a zombie too near a living human, it became alert and proceeded to tear the star apart.

It is estimated that some 90 percent of black holes lie dormant in space due to lack of energy. This zombie state came about billions of years ago when, after the newly formed universe saw a feeding frenzy of black holes simply consuming stars and material, they grew large, supermassive, and, eventually, ran out of consumables. As they ran out of acquirable energy, the black holes went into a zombie state. Not quite dead, just dormant. Scientists refer to them as quiescent black holes.

What transpired between the quiescent black hole and the star, designated Swift J1644+57, is known as a tidal disruption. It is explained by noting that tidal force is a side effect of gravity that occurs when an inconsistency exists between the gravitational pull of one celestial body over another (where the stronger pull dominates). And it is that gravitational pull by the dominant body that tends to tears away at a star that gets too close to a black hole.

Erin Kara, a NASA postdoctoral researcher, leads a team of astronomers studying how a quiescent supermassive black hole progresses from the dormant stage to that of a destructive star-shredder. According to SciTechDaily.com, she says scientists still don’t quite understand the X-ray outburst, the very thing that first alerted astronomers to the star’s struggle with the black hole.

“While we don’t yet understand what causes X-ray flares near the black hole, we know that when one occurs we can detect its echo a couple of minutes later, once the light has reached and illuminated parts of the flow.”

It is the reflections that shed light on the study of active black holes, Blastr explains. Be that as it may, astronomers have never had the chance to study a reawakened black hole that has been dormant for at least a billion years.

Kara notes in the team’s paper, “Relativistic Reverberation in the Accretion Flow of a Tidal Disruption Event” (published in the journal Nature), that the finding is significant.

“Tidal disruption events, where a star orbiting an otherwise dormant black hole gets tidally shredded and accreted onto the black hole, can provide a short, unbiased glimpse at the space-time around the other ninety per cent of black holes.”

As star Swift J1644+57 was pulled apart, its components were heated to millions of degrees before intense gravity will eventually pull them past the event horizon, which, in layman’s terms, is the point of no return for matter entering into the gravitational sway of a black hole. Until that point, they will orbit the black hole as a flattening mass of energized ions that fire off X-rays from what is known as an accretion disc.

The accretion disc of Swift J1644+57 appears to be thicker than most of its kind. However, as Kara’s team has learned, it is also very chaotic. Such discoveries could lead to expanding what is known about black holes and how they operate.

A more recent study targeting the center of black holes might have part of the answer concerning how black holes ultimately dispense with matter. The Inquisitr reported that, using computer models and various geometric structures, physicists at the Institute of Corpuscular Physics in Valencia (Spain) found that it is quite possible that where it has been theorized that a singularity exists within a black hole, a small aperture, what they refer to as a “back door,” might exist. This would suggest that, instead of matter being crushed into the central mass of the singularity, there is an escape area, the size of which is dependent upon the amount of electromagnetic energy generated by the black hole itself. A “back door” within a black hole could be, according to researchers, a portal to a passageway known as a wormhole, a theorized construct that could lead to another point in the universe.

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