Gamma ray flash was star swallowed whole by black hole

Yikes! What a way to go. One wonders if there were any planets around that star and if they may have contained life. We’ll never know.

Black hole eats star, producing bright gamma-ray flash

By Robert Sanders, Media Relations UC Berkeley  | June 16, 2011

BERKELEY —

A bright flash of gamma rays observed March 28 by the Swift satellite may have been the death rattle of a star falling into a massive black hole and being ripped apart, according to a team of astronomers led by the University of California, Berkeley.

When the Swift Gamma Burst Mission spacecraft first detected the flash within the constellation Draco, astronomers thought it was a gamma-ray burst from a collapsing star and designated it GRB 110328A. On March 31, however, UC Berkeley’s Joshua Bloom sent out an email circular suggesting that it wasn’t a typical gamma-ray burst at all, but a high-energy jet produced as a star about the size of our sun was shredded by a black hole a million times more massive.

Gamma-ray flare observed by the Swift satellite.

Images from Swift's Ultraviolet/Optical (white, purple) and X-ray telescopes (yellow and red) were combined in this view of the gamma-ray flare, catalogued as GRB 110328A. The blast was detected only in X-rays, which were collected over a 3.4-hour period on March 28, 2011. (NASA/Swift/Stefan Immler)

Careful analysis of the Swift data and subsequent observations by the Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Observatory confirmed Bloom’s initial insight. The details are published online today (Thursday, June 16) in Science Express, a rapid publication arm of the journal Science.

“This is truly different from any explosive event we have seen before,” Bloom said.

What made this gamma-ray flare, called Sw 1644+57, stand out from a typical burst were its long duration and the fact that it appeared to come from the center of a galaxy nearly 4 billion light years away. Since most, if not all, galaxies are thought to contain a massive black hole at the center, a long-duration burst could conceivably come from the relatively slow tidal disruption of an infalling star, the astronomers said.

“This 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,” said Bloom, an associate professor of astronomy at UC Berkeley. “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.”

Bloom and his colleagues propose in their Science Express paper that some 10 percent of the infalling star’s mass is turned into energy and irradiated as X-rays from the swirling accretion disk or as X-rays and higher energy gamma rays from a relativistic jet that punches out along the rotation axis. Earth just happened to be in the eye of the gamma-ray beam.

Bloom draws an analogy with a quasar, which is a distant galaxy that emits bright, high-energy light because of the massive black hole at its center gobbling up stars and sending out a jet of X-rays along its rotation axis. Observed from an angle, these bright emissions are called active galactic nuclei, but when observed down the axis of the jet, they’re referred to as blazars.

“We argue that this must be jetted material and we’re looking down the barrel,” he said. “Jetting is a common phenomenon when you have accretion disks, and black holes actually prefer to make jets.”

Looking back at previous observations of this region of the cosmos, Bloom and his team could find no evidence of X-ray or gamma-ray emissions, leading them to conclude that this is a “one-off event,” Bloom said.

“Here, you have a black hole sitting quiescently, not gobbling up matter, and all of a sudden something sets it off,” Bloom said. “This could happen in our own galaxy, where a black hole sits at the center living in quiescence, and occasionally burbles or hiccups as it swallows a little bit of gas. From a distance, it would appear dormant, until a star randomly wanders too close and is shredded.”

Probable tidal disruptions of a star by a massive black hole have previously been seen at X-ray, ultraviolet and optical wavelengths, but never before at gamma-ray energies. Such random events, especially looking down the barrel of a jet, are incredibly rare, “probably once in 100 million years in any given galaxy,” said Bloom. “I would be surprised if we saw another one of these anywhere in the sky in the next decade.”

Hubble Space Telescope image of galaxy.

A visible-light image of GRB 110328A's host galaxy (arrow) taken on April 4, 2011, by the Hubble Space Telescope's Wide Field Camera 3. The galaxy is 3.8 billion light years away. (NASA/ESA/A. Fruchter, STScI)

The astronomers suspect that the gamma-ray emissions began March 24 or 25 in the uncatalogued galaxy at a redshift of 0.3534, putting it at a distance of about 3.8 billion light years. Bloom and his colleagues estimate that the emissions will fade over the next year.

“We think this event was detected around the time it was as bright as it will ever be, and if it’s really a star being ripped apart by a massive black hole, we predict that it will never happen again in this galaxy,” he said.

Bloom’s colleagues include UC Berkeley theoretical physicist Elliot Quataert, who models the production of jets from accretion disks, and UC Berkeley astronomers S. Bradley Cenko, Daniel A. Perley, Nathaniel R. Butler, Linda E. Strubbe, Antonino Cucchiara, Geoffrey C. Bower and Adam N. Morgan; Dimitrios Giannios and Brian D. Metzger of Princeton University; Andrew J. Levan of the University of Warwick, Coventry, United Kingdom; Nial R. Tanvir, Paul T. O’ Brien, Andrew R. King and Sergei Nayakshin of the University of Leicester in the U.K.; Fabio De Colle, Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz and James Guillochon of UC Santa Cruz; William H. Lee of the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de México in Mexico City; Andrew S. Fruchter of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md.; and Alexander J. van der Horst of the Universities Space Research Association in Huntsville, Ala.

Levan is first author of the companion Science Express paper, and leader of the Chandra and Hubble Space Telescope observation team.

Bloom and his laboratory are supported by grants from NASA and the National Science Foundation.

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LeeHarvey

I’ve always wondered what the potential is for ‘quick’ destruction of a star system in the course of a galactic collision such as is expected between the Milky Way and Andromeda in a few billion years. It would seem that the odds would be substantially higher than of seeing such an event happen in a ‘static’ galaxy…

I love the term “flash”. I guess in astronomical scales, it was a flash (but then what is a normal burst like?). A fascinating finding, and due to its relative longevity, was a good one to study.

PaulH

Can we add voracious black holes to the list of catastrophes caused by global warming? ;->

Bratise

OT The accuweather global warming page by Brett linked here is not “lukewarmer” and you are giving it undone recognition by doing so. Its most definitely in the “pure warmista camp” have a look for yourself not one mention of solar news or IPCC etc. Its been veering this way for some time as his job probably depends on continuation of AGW and the site itself. Suggestion put it in the same list as RC etc. link here
http://www.accuweather.com/blogs/climatechange/Science

dougsherman

“… we predict it will never happen again in this galaxy.”
Now I have to question every other conclusion this guy has made.

Jan Sobieski

More unraveling. Climates crooks at work.
“Changing Tides: Research Center Under Fire for ‘Adjusted’ Sea-Level Data Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2011/06/17/research-center-under-fire-for-adjusted-sea-level-data/#ixzz1PYTtsLrc

Nigel S

What’s the carbon footprint of that?

reason

“a galactic collision such as is expected between the Milky Way and Andromeda in a few billion years.”
Kinda puts “our” problems into perspective…

Now THAT was Global Warming — err Globular warming — you know what I mean!

peterhodges

may have been…thought to…could conceivably
Hmmm…sounds familiar.

reason

“Now I have to question every other conclusion this guy has made.”
I second that.

“a galactic collision such as is expected between the Milky Way and Andromeda in a few billion years.”
Ack! tax now to prevent this AGC (Anthropogenic galactic collision)

Olen

Good to be on the outer edge.

F. Ross

dougsherman says:
June 17, 2011 at 10:25 am
“… we predict it will never happen again in this galaxy.”
Now I have to question every other conclusion this guy has made.

Well put; my thoughts exactly.

Andrew30

dougsherman;
[“… we predict it will never happen again in this galaxy.”
Now I have to question every other conclusion this guy has made.]
Yes, ‘never’ is a long time.

Jim G

So, how does a black hole “grow” since time stops at the singularity, it would seem that nothing could ever add to that singulariity and would take a semi-infinite amount of time to even approach it?

DirkH

““We think this event was detected around the time it was as bright as it will ever be, and if it’s really a star being ripped apart by a massive black hole, we predict that it will never happen again in this galaxy,” he said.”
He takes himself far too seriously. We are only watching out for gamma rays for a few years now and immediately (in historical terms) we see such an event – how unlikely is *that* when it happens so rarely? I can already see the headline next year when scientists will be baffled, surprised and flabbergasted when it happens again.

LarryD

Random notes:
The center regions of galaxies are high radiation areas, not likely for life to develop there. If the star migrated there from elsewhere, the high radiation would most likely kill any higher life forms in its solar system long before the star was torn apart.
Jim G: matter can enter the event horizon, though, and the additional mass will enlarge the event horizon.

Sorry, have I strayed onto a blog discussing plots for sci fi movies?
Some of these astronomers straining at faraway gnats could better spend some time studying what is going on closer to home.

Ray

Just a few days ago I was looking around on Google map for strange shapes and found this thing at 46°27′18.52″N 119°24′27.56″W.
Searching further I found out that it was the LIGO observatory at Hanford Nuclear Reservation. They have been spending hundreds of millions for this marvelous interferometer that was specifically built to detect ripples in the gravitation. The sort of ripples that such present phenomenon would cause. Yet, they are still operating and they never been able to detect anything with it, not even the present event. What a waste of money.

Kelvin Vaughan

uncatalogued galaxy at a redshift of 0.3534, putting it at a distance of about 3.8 billion light years.
The bad news is that the red shift was caused by the black hole and it’s only a stones throw away.

kadaka (KD Knoebel)

Now I’m wondering about rogue “wandering” black holes in space, possibly heading our way. Could a “small” one slingshot around a galactic core and be ejected out into deep space, possibly at a significant fraction of c (speed of light)? Without a noticeable accretion disk (perhaps consumed during traveling), would we even see it coming?

Mac the Knife

‘And in other news, am interesting vignette from outside our Milky Way Galaxy’
Thanks, Anthony!!!

Jim G says:
June 17, 2011 at 11:11 am
So, how does a black hole “grow” since time stops at the singularity, it would seem that nothing could ever add to that singulariity and would take a semi-infinite amount of time to even approach it?

That’s is only what the observer outside a black hole sees, Its all about the frame of reference.

PaulH from Scotland

@tallbloke
Despite hugely valuing your AGW de-programming posts all over the blogosphere, I feel the need to call you up on this one.
Humans will eventually colonise space (you can probably already guess I’m a Trekkie), and the cost of this research, albeit highly qualified, is probably miniscule compared to the billions spent of the AGW bollocks.
Research like this fills my optimism bank. Yes, I know it’s a wee bit irrational, but you may wish to consider indulging us largely harmless Trekkies…
Other than that, keep up the fabulous work please! ;-).

APACHEWHOKNOWS

Here on earth the “bright star” is the energy of the developed countries with liberty, the dark hole that wants to shread U.S. all and those others of liberty ,= “Black Hole #1- AGW” .

@tallbloke
What part of the discovery by NASA seems like a plot for a sci fi movie?
You have peaked my curiosity.

Stephen Garland

How long ago did this happen? Something less than 4 billion years ago I persume (if the earth is moving away from it).

Michael Larkin

From Wikpedia:
“While there was initially some controversy over the nature of these objects—as recently as the early 1980s, there was no clear consensus as to their nature—there is now a scientific consensus that a quasar is a compact region in the center of a massive galaxy surrounding its central supermassive black hole. Its size is 10–10,000 times the Schwarzschild radius of the black hole. The quasar is powered by an accretion disc around the black hole.”
Ah well, if there’s a consensus, it must be right, and we can ignore Arp’s photos of quasars apparently physically connected to low-redshift galaxies. So much more fun to indulge in metaphysics, after all.

CodeTech

Pfft… here we were, stranded 3.8 billion light years away with our time machine broken, and when we finally managed to push the star INto the black hole to send a beacon to Earth for help, what happens?
“Oh, it’s nothing really, just an anomaly that will never repeat”.
Sigh. Good thing a passing Asgard ship gave us a ride home…

Luther Bl.

Oh dear. So “may” is unacceptable in news stories about climate, but ok in news stories about space. Are the Electric Universe people even more feared here than the warmenistas?

Craig Goodrich

“One wonders if there were any planets around that star and if they may have contained life.”
Well, if there were and it did, the life went extinct four billion years ago, so it’s a little late to worry about it. Unless, of course, the very stringy physicist Luboš comes over and tells us that the whole idea of simultaneity is nonsense, so it actually DID just happen.

Black holes, well I have never accepted the argument…….it’s pure big-bang pixie-dust.
NASA tells us ‘the universe is flat’, just like an A4 sheet…….if that isn’t ‘flat earth thinking’ I don’t know what is!

Tenuc

“A bright flash of gamma rays observed March 28 by the Swift satellite may have been the death rattle of a star falling into a massive black hole…
2 + 2 = 7

John Silver

Please Anthony, they are just making stuff up.
There are no black holes or dark whatevers, it’s fiction to cover the big bang theory.
Models, not observation.

Stephen Brown

“ClimateForAll says:
June 17, 2011 at 12:27 pm
@tallbloke
What part of the discovery by NASA seems like a plot for a sci fi movie?
You have peaked my curiosity.”
“Piqued”, surely?

Tom_R

>> Robert says:
June 17, 2011 at 12:21 pm
Jim G says:
June 17, 2011 at 11:11 am
So, how does a black hole “grow” since time stops at the singularity, it would seem that nothing could ever add to that singulariity and would take a semi-infinite amount of time to even approach it?
That’s is only what the observer outside a black hole sees, Its all about the frame of reference. <<
Jim G has a good question. If a black hole starts at the center of a galaxy, an outside observer could never see (see == observe in some way) it grow, yet we outside observers see supermassive black holes that presumably contain the mass of all of the stars swallowed up since it was first created.
Apparently, while we can never see matter cross the event horizon of a black hole, we can see the black hole event horizon expand as mass is added … even though the mass hasn't crossed into the black hole yet according to our observations.
I think I'll go have that drink now …

ClimateForAll says:
June 17, 2011 at 12:27 pm
@tallbloke
What part of the discovery by NASA seems like a plot for a sci fi movie?
You have peaked my curiosity.

I cannot speak for Tallbloke, but the one that came to mind when I read the article elsewhere was “The Doomsday machine”. It is about a giant cigar that eats planets.

jim hogg

“dougsherman says:
June 17, 2011 at 10:25 am
“… we predict it will never happen again in this galaxy.”
Now I have to question every other conclusion this guy has made”.
And like Reason and all the others, my thoughts exactly . . . .

“ClimateForAll says:
June 17, 2011 at 12:27 pm
@tallbloke
What part of the discovery by NASA seems like a plot for a sci fi movie?
You have peaked my curiosity.”
“Piqued”, surely?
I thought he was saying that his curiousity reached a high value, and then came down.

So, how does a black hole “grow” since time stops at the singularity, it would seem that nothing could ever add to that singulariity and would take a semi-infinite amount of time to even approach it?
Time slows for the object, it doesn’t slow for the observer.
For a simpler example, think of a space ship traveling at 0.9C. For us obsevers, we see this ship taking 11 years to travel 10 light years. For those on the ship, a shorter period of time elapses, say only 5 years.
For an object falling into a black hole, assuming we could see that object after it passed the event horizon, we would see an object that continued to follow Newton’s laws all the way until it hit the singularity. What happens after that, nobody knows.

Apparently, while we can never see matter cross the event horizon of a black hole, we can see the black hole event horizon expand as mass is added … even though the mass hasn’t crossed into the black hole yet according to our observations.

An object that has crossed the event horizon, even though it has not yet reached the singularity, still adds to the total mass within the event horizon. Until it actually reaches the singularity, it would probably cause a small bulge in the event horizon closest to the object.
From a distance far enough away, the Earth and the Moon can be thought of as a single point gravitationally. That is, the distance between the two objects, is small compared to the distance between the two objects and the observer.

Mike McMillan

PaulH says: June 17, 2011 at 10:17 am
Can we add voracious black holes to the list of catastrophes caused by global warming?

Not yet. No climate models have so far turned up any evidence of that happening. Let’s wait until all the evidence is in.
The infalling star wouldn’t have any life, as the radiation environment around a black hole is intense. I doubt there is any life in the center of our own galaxy for the same reason.

PHager

Ray (June 17, 2011 at 12:09 pm)
LIGO wasn’t a waste of money. While it may not have detected gravity waves (they may have and have not published yet), it most likely proved that the detector design didn’t work or Einstein was wrong. Pick one or all of the above.

paul westhaver
Malaga View

as the black hole rips the star apart, the mass swirls around like water going down a drain

These guys sure have fertile imaginations….
The only thing I can see going down a drain is credibility, respect, opportunity, science and money…

Wayne Ward (truthsword)

May…. It may have been… That “may” in the first sentence always makes me pass over the article as it is an indication of an idea (or theory) rather than any factual information.

Wil

Re: “a galactic collision such as is expected between the Milky Way and Andromeda in a few billion years.” Now I’m in my area – in actuality the Andromeda and Milky Way will run THROUGH each other a number of times resulting in using up most of the gas in both galaxies in star-bursts formations. Moreover, many stars will be thrown off in space and a small probability our solar system will actually join with the Andromeda Galaxy on one of its passes before both galaxies settle down into one giant elliptical galaxy. That is after the black holes in both galaxies find each other and gravitate to the center of the new galaxy no doubt firing up the much larger black hole. Others black holes within both systems? It’s gonna be real interesting – However, we’ll have to get off this rock before that event IF we’re still around and not wiped off this planet by Venus style Global Warming as the IPCC would have us believe.

nemesis

Totally off topic
http://www.jonfr.com/volcano/
Katla looks to be waking up!!!

Mark.R

All this happen 4 billion years ago. It’s taken 4 billion years for the light to get to earth.