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NASA observes a black hole feasting on a star

The TESS satellite captures rare images of a cataclysmic event in a faraway galaxy.

TESS Catches its First Star-destroying Black Hole
  • TESS, a NASA planet-hunting satellite takes images of a black hole shredding apart a star.
  • This phenomenon, called a tidal disruption event, is very rare.
  • The star was the size of our sun.


NASA's planet-finding TESS satellite captured groundbreaking images of a black hole pulling apart a star.

TESS, which stands for Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, was able to observe what's called a tidal disruption event, during which a passing star (in this case the size of our sun) got too close to a black hole and was shredded into a stream of gas. What happens next in such events is that the tail of the stream escapes into space while the rest forms an accretion disk.

Tidal disruptions are very rare, happening at the rate of once every 10,000 to 100,000 years in a Milky-Way-sized galaxy. Since seeing one is extremely difficult, only about 40 such events have been observed so far by scientists in various galaxies.

Astronomers estimate that the supermassive black hole that produced this particular event (thanks to its extreme gravitational pull) weighs about 6 million times more than our Sun. It's located at the center of the 2MASX J07001137-6602251 galaxy, which is about 375 million light-years away from us in the constellation Volans.

NASA's Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory and instruments from around the world provided more details about the finding, which was first captured on January 29th by ASAS-SN, an international network of 20 robotic telescopes. The network's name, if you're wondering, doesn't stand for "assassin," but is actually an acronym for the "All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae". TESS actually saw the event even earlier, on January 21st, but its data was not transmitted to Earth until March 13th.

Thomas Holoien, a Carnegie Fellow at the Carnegie Observatories in Pasadena, California, said that data from TESS allowed scientists to see exactly when the event, dubbed ASASSN-19bt, began to get brighter – something they've never been able to spot previously.

"Because we identified the tidal disruption quickly with the ground-based All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae (ASAS-SN), we were able to trigger multiwavelength follow-up observations in the first few days," said Holoien. "The early data will be incredibly helpful for modeling the physics of these outbursts."

Learn more about TESS, a mission led by MIT and managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center here.

You can also read the paper on the amazing findings online in The Astrophysical Journal.

How to make a black hole

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Remote learning vs. online instruction: How COVID-19 woke America up to the difference

Educators and administrators must build new supports for faculty and student success in a world where the classroom might become virtual in the blink of an eye.

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Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • If you or someone you know is attending school remotely, you are more than likely learning through emergency remote instruction, which is not the same as online learning, write Rich DeMillo and Steve Harmon.
  • Education institutions must properly define and understand the difference between a course that is designed from inception to be taught in an online format and a course that has been rapidly converted to be offered to remote students.
  • In a future involving more online instruction than any of us ever imagined, it will be crucial to meticulously design factors like learner navigation, interactive recordings, feedback loops, exams and office hours in order to maximize learning potential within the virtual environment.
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Octopus-like creatures inhabit Jupiter’s moon, claims space scientist

A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.

Jupiter's moon Europa has a huge ocean beneath its sheets of ice.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute
Surprising Science
  • A British scientist named Professor Monica Grady recently came out in support of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
  • Europa, the sixth largest moon in the solar system, may have favorable conditions for life under its miles of ice.
  • The moon is one of Jupiter's 79.
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Supporting climate science increases skepticism of out-groups

A study finds people are more influenced by what the other party says than their own. What gives?

Protesters demanding action against climate change

Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A new study has found evidence suggesting that conservative climate skepticism is driven by reactions to liberal support for science.
  • This was determined both by comparing polling data to records of cues given by leaders, and through a survey.
  • The findings could lead to new methods of influencing public opinion.
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What is counterfactual thinking?

Can thinking about the past really help us create a better present and future?

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Personal Growth
  • There are two types of counterfactual thinking: upward and downward.
  • Both upward and downward counterfactual thinking can be positive impacts on your current outlook - however, upward counterfactual thinking has been linked with depression.
  • While counterfactual thinking is a very normal and natural process, experts suggest the best course is to focus on the present and future and allow counterfactual thinking to act as a motivator when possible.
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