Astronomers reveal explosion a trillion times brighter than the sun was actually a supermassive black hole shredding a distant star
Last year, astronomers spotted an explosion a trillion times brighter than the sun that they dubbed the ‘brightest supernova ever seen.’
But that massive explosion of light – which outshone the whole Milky Way – wasn’t a supernova at all, but a supermassive black hole.
According to a new study, the black hole was in the process of shredding a distant star that wandered to close, creating an incredible amount of light.
The team of researchers was led by Dr Giorgos Leloudas at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel and the Dark Cosmology Centre in Denmark.
The observations were made as part of the All Sky Automated Survey for SuperNovae (ASAS-SN).
Dr Leloudas said: ‘We observed the source for 10 months following the event and have concluded that the explanation is unlikely to lie with an extraordinarily bright supernova.
‘Our results indicate that the event was probably caused by a rapidly spinning supermassive black hole as it destroyed a low-mass star.’
The extreme gravitational forces of the supermassive black hole located in the the centre of the host galaxy ripped the sun-like star apart when it came too close to it.
The event, which is called a tidal disruption event, occurs when stars get too close to a black hole’s event horizon – the boundary within which nothing is able to escape its gravitational pull.
Tidal disruption events have only been observed 10 times before.
In the process of the star being destroyed, it was spaghettified: a process where objects are vertically stretched and horizontally compressed into long thin shapes, much like spaghetti.
The colliding debris approaching the hole, as well as the heat generated from the debris coming together to form larger bodies, led to a burst of light.
The bright light made the black hole event appear to be a supernova, even though that specific star could not have become a supernova as its mass was too small.
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