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Every so often, an object will pass too close to a black hole and be ripped apart by its intense gravitational forces. As the object, such as a star, approaches the danger zone of the black hole, its stellar debris is flung outward at high speeds, while the star's material falls towards the black hole. This in-falling material becomes hotter and hotter until it generates a signature outburst of X-rays. Astronomers call these "tidal disruption events," or TDEs, and they can be used to better understand how black holes grow and affect their environments.

While astronomers have seen multiple examples of TDEs in recent years, a new discovery stands out among the rest. Using data from three X-ray telescopes: Chandra, Swift, and XMM-Newton, researchers have found a TDE that has lasted about ten years, much longer than other events. What could cause this decade-long meal by the black hole? There are a couple of possibilities. The first is that this black hole, located in a galaxy about 1.8 billion light years from Earth, completely shredded the largest star astronomers have known to be destroyed in a TDE. The other, also intriguing, possibility is that in previous TDEs the star wasn't completely ripped apart, but in this event it was. While astronomers continue to study this source and look for others like it, we are reminded just how amazing black holes can be.
[Runtime: 02:29]

(Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/UNH/D.Lin et al, Optical: CFHT, Illustration: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss)




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