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Friday, June 17, 2011

Ripped apart and swallowed by a black hole, scientists witness the extraordinary destruction of a star 3.8bn light years away - 17th June 2011

image: An artist's impression of a star about to be consumed by a giant black hole. Scientists have detected a massive black hole consuming and ripping apart a star within the constellation of Draco.

Scientists have witnessed a massive black hole swallowing up and ripping apart a star.

A powerful beam of energy that had crossed 3.8billion light years of space was the last gasp of the ill-fated star.

The bright flash of gamma rays was detected by the Swift satellite within the constellation of Draco.

At first, astronomers thought it was a typical 'gamma ray burst' from a collapsing star, but closer inspection of the data revealed something far more interesting.

The high-energy jet was produced by a star about the size of the sun being swallowed up by a black hole a million times more massive.

The event - known as Sw 1644+57 - appeared to come from the centre of a galaxy nearly four billion light years away.

Dr Joshua Bloom, from the University of California at Berkeley, said: 'The burst produced a tremendous amount of energy over a fairly long period of time, and the event is still going on more than two-and-a-half months later.

'That's because as the black hole rips the star apart, the mass swirls around like water going down a drain, and this swirling process releases a lot of energy.'

News of the discovery was reported online by the journal Science. Read More