It’s the longest feast we’ve ever seen, and it’s still going on! But why?
“Put two ships in the open sea, without wind or tide, and, at last, they will come together. Throw two planets into space, and they will fall one on the other. Place two enemies in the midst of a crowd, and they will inevitably meet; it is a fatality, a question of time; that is all.” –Jules Verne
When an object passes close to a black hole, it experiences tremendous tidal forces compressing and stretching it, capable of tearing it completely apart.
The parts closest to the black hole experience the greatest gravitational force, fragmenting the object in a tidal disruption event (TDE).
Although most of the matter gets ejected, some gets accelerated towards the black hole, where it heats up, causing an intense emission of X-rays.
Normally lasting weeks or months, a new record has just been set for TDEs. XJ1500+0154, 1.8 billion light years away, is the largest, longest-lasting one ever seen.
First detected in July of 2005, the X-rays from this distant source brightened by a factor of 100 over 3 years. They remain bright even today.
Although dozens of TDEs have been observed since the 1990s, none have lasted this long. It may be caused by the most massive star ever observed creating a TDE.
Chandra’s incredible X-ray eyes can pinpoint this emission to the galaxy’s center: where its supermassive black hole lives.
This accretion rate is beyond the Eddington limit — the first such observation — and may explain the rapid growth of supermassive black holes.
Mostly Mute Monday tells a unique story of our Universe in pictures, visuals and no more than 200 words.