A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… a black hole swallowed up a star. This week, a team of astronomers including Andy Lawrence from the University of Edinburgh published a study describing the event, which caused a flare so bright that it could be seen from a distance of 2 billion light-years.
The star-gobbling black hole was first spotted in May 2010 by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope in Hawaii. This is the first time that astronomers have observed one of these events from start to finish, allowing them to work out the life story of the doomed star. Before being shredded to pieces by the black hole’s gravitational field, the star was a red giant – a red giant that found itself in a very unlucky orbit.
NASA has just released this stunning computer simulation of the event (the black hole is the tiny blue dot in the top-left of the image):
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/JHU/UCSC