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Glimpse of black hole swallowing star, shooting flare

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Washington: Scientists for the first time caught a glimpse of a black hole swallowing a star and shooting out a high-speed flare of matter at the centre of a nearby galaxy.

The finding, reported in the US journal Science, tracked this star — about the size of the Sun — as it shifted from its customary path, slipped into the gravitational pull of a supermassive black hole and was sucked in, Xinhua quoted lead author Sjoert van Velzen of the Johns Hopkins University as saying on Thursday.

Though extremely rare, supermassive black holes were spotted previously eating a star alive. Scientists have also seen flares, or jets, from supermassive black holes.

“But this is the first time we got a clear view of the stellar destruction, followed by the jet,” van Velzen said.

“The jet is also of much lower power than what we have seen before, which is present an interesting puzzle.”

Van Velzen led the analysis and coordinated efforts of 13 other scientists in the US, the Netherlands, Britain and Australia. The team compared the energy produced by the jet in this event to the entire energy output of the Sun over 10 million years.

They concluded that it was likely all supermassive black holes swallowing stars launched jets but this discovery was made possible because the black hole is relatively close to the Earth and was studied soon after it was first seen.

The black hole is only 300 million light-years away from the Earth and the team was able to make their first observations using radio telescopes only three weeks after it was found, they said.

“Our new findings suggest that this type of jet could indeed be common,” he said.

“Finding more of these rare events may further our understanding of the processes that allow black holes to launch such spectacular outflows.”


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