In late March 2011, NASA’s Swift satellite alerted astronomers to intense and unusual high-energy flares from a new source in the constellation Draco. They soon realized that the source, which is now known as Swift J1644+57, was the result of a truly extraordinary event — the awakening of a distant galaxy’s dormant black hole as it shredded and consumed a star. The galaxy is so far away that the radiation from the blast has traveled 3.9 billion years before reaching Earth.
Speculative video representations of something unseen are often weak at best and completely wrong at worst. When NASA steps up to show us a visualization of a perceived black hole enveloping a star, the results are stunning.
That was the case yesterday when NASA posted this video showing a star that was apparently eaten by a black hole in a distant galaxy 3.9 billion years ago. The particle jets that resulted, traveling at 80%-90% of the speed of light, happened to be pointed directly at the earth, making our detection of the even possible.
According to NASA, “As a star falls toward a black hole, it is ripped apart by intense tides. The gas is corralled into a disk that swirls around the black hole and becomes rapidly heated to temperatures of millions of degrees.”