NASA’s WISE telescope has, for the first time, caught true echoes of a black hole eating stars. How? They saw their burps.
“Supermassive black holes, with their immense gravitational pull, are notoriously good at clearing out their immediate surroundings by eating nearby objects,” Science Daily said. “When a star passes within a certain distance of a black hole, the stellar material gets stretched and compressed–or ‘spaghettified’–as the black hole swallows it.”
These waves of infrared light resulted in the publication of two studies, The Washington Post reported.
“Two studies published this week — one by scientists at NASA, the other by researchers at the University of Science and Technology of China — describe these ‘tidal disruption flares’ using data from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), a space telescope that has photographed the entire sky in infrared light.”
Sjoert van Velzen, the lead author of the NASA study, explained why this occurrence has been treated with so much excitement.
“This is the first time we have clearly seen the infrared light echoes from multiple tidal disruption events.”
Black holes are sometimes frightening to non-scientists, or to anyone who just doesn’t know that much about them. But, in reality, they are just as disturbing when you know a lot about them. Black holes have one of the strongest gravitational pulls in the universe. If a planet, star or object gets caught in their gravitational pull, then they’re a lost cause.
“The technical term for these celestial phenomena is ‘stellar tidal disruption events,'” The Washington Post said. “When a star gets too close to a black hole’s event horizon (the ‘point of no return,’ at which not even light can escape), it gets stretched and torn apart by variations in the black hole’s gravitational pull. Scientists call the process ‘spaghettification’ for the way that it elongates everything that has the misfortune of enduring it.”
Obviously, if you’ve watched Interstellar, then you have experienced a taste of these massive vacuums’ intensity. Not only do black holes have a major gravitational pull, but because of this, they distort time. Also, as noted by Tech Times, the amount of radiation that they emit when devouring stars is so massive that it affects the atmosphere and dust around them. This results in the infrared light that the WISE telescope was able to catch sight of.
“Tidal disruption events feature so much radiation, emitting the likes of X-ray and ultraviolet light, that they destroy all dust hanging around close enough to black holes. However, some dust do survive as radiation levels drop after a certain distance. But once surviving dust gets heat up by a flare, it emits infrared, an emission that the WISE instrument can measure. […] This then helps in estimating the dust location around a black hole at a galaxy center.”
Of course, for non-scientists, sometimes scientific studies can sound like a foreign language or at least seem overwhelming in content. However, it can be summarized by saying that, when black holes consume stars, the energy and radiation is so great that it scorches the dust and particles surrounding the it. This creates waves of “infrared emissions” that can be seen from earth through telescopes like WISE.
Tech Times even explained the intensity and longevity of these emissions.
“Infrared emissions from flare-heated dust leaves signals that are detectable for one year after a flare reaches its peak brightness. The results presented by the researchers are consistent with a dust web found some trillions of miles away from a black hole. To put it simply, Van Velzen equates the phenomenon to a black hole consuming dust around it to cleaning its room with flames.”
For more information on black holes, check out this Inquisitr article on a “zombie” black hole.
[Image via NASA]