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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Black hole caught shredding a star to pieces for the first time - 25th Aug 2011

Stunning: This illustration shows plasma shooting out of the black hole after it devours a star. Such an event took place four billion light years from Earth.

A stunning cosmic jet from a super-massive black hole which shredded then swallowed a star has been observed by astronomers for the first time.

The extremely rare phenomenon caused by stellar debris being consumed by the hole has never been observed before.

Known scientifically as 'relativistic jets', they can reach hundreds of thousands of light years in length.

Most galaxies have super-massive black holes - regions of space that suck in everything nearby with their strong gravitation pull - at their core, with masses of millions or even billions of suns.

Scientists were first alerted to the phenomenon in March after Nasa's Swift telescope detected several bursts of X-rays from a quiet patch of sky. Read More

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A STAR FALLS INTO A BLACK HOLE

As a star falls toward a black hole, it is ripped apart by intense tides.

The gas is corralled into an accretion disk that swirls around the black hole and becomes rapidly heated to temperatures of millions of degrees.

The innermost gas in the disk spirals toward the black hole, where rapid motion and magnetism create dual, oppositely directed 'funnels' through which some particles may escape.

Jets driving matter at velocities greater than 90 percent the speed of light form along the black hole's spin axis.

In the case of Swift J1644+57, one of these jets happened to point straight at Earth.