Astronomers Detect The Closest Example Yet Of A Black Hole Devouring A Star

Friday, April 28, 2023
by Jennifer Chu

MIT astronomers, tuning past the conventional X-ray and UV/optical bands, have discovered a new tidal disruption event, shining brightly in infrared. It is one of the first times scientists have directly identified a TDE at infrared wavelengths. What’s more, the new outburst happens to be the closest tidal disruption event observed to date: The flare was found in NGC 7392, a galaxy that is about 137 million light-years from Earth, which corresponds to a region in our cosmic backyard that is one-fourth the size of the next-closest TDE.

This new flare, labeled WTP14adbjsh, did not stand out in standard X-ray and optical data. The scientists suspect that these traditional surveys missed the nearby TDE, not because it did not emit X-rays and UV light, but because that light was obscured by an enormous amount of dust that absorbed the radiation and gave off heat in the form of infrared energy.

“Finding this nearby TDE means that, statistically, there must be a large population of these events that traditional methods were blind to,” says Christos Panagiotou, a postdoc in MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. “So, we should try to find these in infrared if we want a complete picture of black holes and their host galaxies.”

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