The star bitten by a black hole

It looks like our Sun and is in a nearby galaxy. It is gradually devoured by a small but voracious black hole. It loses the mass equivalent to three Earths each time it passes close by. This is the star bitten by a black hole.

The discovery was made by astronomers at the University of Leicester. It represents a “missing link” in the knowledge of black holes disrupting orbiting stars. It was reported in Nature Astronomy. And it suggests the existence of a whole collection of undiscovered stars in the process of being consumed. It is about 500 million light-years away from the Milky Way. It was christened Swift J0230. It appeared thanks to a new tool developed by scientists for NASA’s Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory.

Star bitten by a black hole loses mass periodically.
The star bitten by a black hole loses its mass periodically.

Star crusher

The star shone brightly for 7-10 days and then abruptly extinguished. It repeats this process approximately every 25 days. Its orbit brings it closer to the gravitational pull of the black hole. Each time it passes, material equivalent to the mass of three Earths is torn out of the star’s atmosphere. The intense heat releases an enormous amount of X-rays that were first captured by the Swift satellite.

Dr. Phil Evans of the University of Leicester tells. “This is the first time this has been observed. A star like our Sun is repeatedly crushed and consumed by a low-mass black hole. In most of the systems we’ve seen in the past, the star is completely destroyed. Swift J0230 allows us an approach that detects new stages of the process.”

New vision

That black hole is between 10,000 and 100,000 times the mass of our Sun. It is quite small for the supermassive black holes usually found at the center of galaxies. The black hole at the center of our galaxy is thought to be 4 million solar masses. Most are around 100 million solar masses.

The star bitten by a black hole was detected thanks to the new tool. “This type of object was essentially undetectable until we built this new facility. It is capable of discovering totally new phenomena that we didn’t know existed. We discovered that there is something out there that you had no idea about before,” they add.

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