The star, of a mass equivalent to that of our Sun, ventured too close to a supermassive ogre, with a mass a million times greater than him.

Most of them lose their body and their belongings, literally swallowed up by the phenomenal force of attraction of the black hole, that even prevents light from escaping.

But some experience progressive dislocation, in what astronomers call a noodle or spaghetti effect. In the observed case, the star lost about half of its mass in the space of six months: “This is exactly what happens in a tidal rupture event” - or TDE for Tidal disruption event - said British astronomer Matt Nicholl, from the University of Birmingham, main author of the study.

In the case of AT2019qiz - this is the name of this spaghetti star - astronomers were able to identify the TDE phenomenon early enough to observe the whole process in great detail.. And it is the closest star to our Earth to have ever been observed, a little over 215 million light years.

>> Watch a “Death by spaghettification” thanks to this artistic animation of a star undergoing the effects of a tide caused by a black hole:

Approaching, the star first flattens and then stretches under the effect of tidal forces from the black hole, taking the shape of a cigar, explains Stéphane Basa, research director at the Marseille astrophysics laboratory: “When these forces exceed the cohesive force of the star, this one loses pieces that are engulfed in the black hole”.

One of the main contributions of the study, published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomy Society, is to better understand how matter is absorbed, in this case in the form of fine filaments.

The ingestion of these cosmic noodles is accompanied by powerful electromagnetic radiation, a light signal that signs the space glutton's package.

This map shows the location of AT2019qiz, a tidal rupture event, in the constellation Eridanus. The map shows most of the stars visible to the naked eye in good conditions, and the location of AT2019qiz is indicated by a red circle. [ESO / IAU – Sky & Telescope]They enabled its automatic detection in September 2019, by a host of instruments detecting sudden changes in the luminosity of celestial objects, at about 215 million light years, in the Eridan galaxy.

“We immediately pointed a series of terrestrial and space telescopes in that direction to analyze the light source.”, a this Thomas Wever, co-author of the study, in a press release from the European Southern Observatory (THAT).

This glow is usually obscured by the curtain of matter, which makes it difficult to observe the phenomenon, according to scientists.

This time, the speed of the reaction and the relative proximity of the event helped lift part of the veil: “We could observe a curtain of dust and debris rise as the black hole launched a powerful jet of matter at speeds of up to 10’000 km per second”, said astronomer Kate Alexander, from Northwestern University, cited by ESO.

Another unpublished observation, according to Stéphane Basa, some of the star's material is ejected from the other side of the black hole.

The astronomer validates the analogy of “Rosetta stone”, which made it possible to decipher the Egyptian hieroglyphics, used by Professor Nicholl's team, to qualify his discovery: “This is a textbook case for future observations”.

Especially since TDE is not a common phenomenon. It is estimated that they only occur once every 10’000 years in the same galaxy.


Black hole, Star, Astronomy, Spaghettification, Supermassive black hole, Observation

World news – FR – “Spaghettification” of a star through a black hole in real time

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