By Michelle Starr
From the heart of a galaxy 215 million light-years away, a brilliant flash of light flared into the void of space – the last scream of light from a dying star as it veered too close and was pulled apart by a supermassive black hole.
It’s the closest such death of a star we’ve ever observed, offering unprecedented insight into the violent cosmic process.
Although catching a stellar death-by-black-hole is uncommon, astronomers have observed enough by now to figure out the broad strokes of how it happens. When a star ventures too close, the immense tidal force of the black hole – the product of its gravitational field – first stretches and then pulls the star so hard that it’s torn apart.
This tidal disruption event (TDE) releases a brilliant flare of light before the debris of the disintegrated star disappears beyond the black hole’s event horizon. But that flare of light is often at least partially obscured by a cloud of dust, which makes studying the finer details difficult.
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