Ever wonder what it looks like when a black hole devours a star? If so, then the data collected by a team of astronomers led by Sixiang Wen, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Arizona Steward Observatory, shows you just that. This was made possible using the X-rays emitted by a tidal disruption event known as J2150 to make the first measurements of both the black hole’s mass and spin. Read more for a video and additional information.
To come up with the visualization, the team re-analyzed the X-ray data used to observe the J2150 flare, and compared it with sophisticated theoretical models. This showed that the flare did indeed originate from an encounter between a star and an intermediate-mass black hole, with the latter being of particularly low mass, weighing in at approximately 10,000 times the mass of the sun.
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The fact that we were able to catch this black hole while it was devouring a star offers a remarkable opportunity to observe what otherwise would be invisible. Not only that, by analyzing the flare we were able to better understand this elusive category of black holes, which may well account for the majority of black holes in the centers of galaxies,” said Ann Zabludoff, UArizona professor of astronomy and co-author on the paper.