Public Release:  Black hole kills star and blasts 3.8 billion light year beam at Earth

University of Warwick

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IMAGE: What University of Warwick researchers think the star may have looked like at the start of its disruption by a black hole at the center of a galaxy 3.8... view more

Credit: University of Warwick / Mark A. Garlick

Research led by astronomers at the University of Warwick has confirmed that the flash from one of the biggest and brightest bangs yet recorded by astronomers comes from a massive black hole at the centre of a distant galaxy. The black hole appears to have ripped apart a star that wandered too close, creating a powerful beam of energy that crossed the 3.8 billion light years to Earth.

Their research is published today in the Journal Science in a paper entitled "An Extremely Luminous Panchromatic Outburst from the Nucleus of a Distant Galaxy"

The high energy X-rays and gamma-rays persisted at an extremely bright level for weeks after the event, with bright flares arising when further chunks of the star fell into the black hole. The extreme brightness of this event comes from the fact that it illuminated only a small fraction of the sky, pointing a jet of light towards the Milky Way, which was detected at Earth 3.8 billion years after the star was ripped apart.

Dr Andrew Levan, lead researcher on the paper from the University of Warwick "Despite the power of this the cataclysmic event we still only happen to see this event because our solar system happened to be looking right down the barrel of this jet of energy".

The new research paper clearly establishes that the source of this event - (known now as Sw 1644+57) is right at the heart of far away galaxy, 3.8 billion light years away, at a spot which would be in the constellation Draco.

University of Warwick researcher Dr Andrew Levan said:

"The only explanation that so far fits the size, intensity, time scale, and level of fluctuation of the observed event, is that a massive black at the very centre of that galaxy has pulled in a large star and ripped it apart by tidal disruption. The spinning black hole then created the two jets one of which pointed straight to earth."

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For further details please contact:

Dr Andrew Levan
Department of Physics, University of Warwick
(mobile/cell) +44 (0)7714 250373
Office +44 (0)2476 574740 (office)
a.j.levan@warwick.ac.uk

Peter Dunn, Head of Communications
University of Warwick, Tel: +44 (0)24 76 523708
Mobile/Cell +44 (0)7767 655860
p.j.dunn@warwick.ac.uk

Notes for Editors

The researchers used the Hubble Space Telescope, Swift satellite and the Chandra X-ray Observatory to study the blast. Swift's Burst Alert Telescope first discovered the source, on March 28, when it erupted with the first in a series of X-ray blasts.

The full list of research organisations credited in the paper is: The Department of Physics, University of Warwick, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Leicester, Leicester, Department of Astronomy, University of California, Space Telescope Science Institute, Dark Cosmology Centre, Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, NASA , Universities Space Research Association, Columbia Astrophysics Lab, Columbia University, Instituto de Astrofissica de Andalucia (IAA-CSIC), Glorieta de la Astronomia , Herschel Science Operations Centre, ESAC, ESA, UCO/Lick Observatory, University of California, Institut de Radio Astronomie Millimetrique, Joint Astronomy center, University Park, Hilo, Center for Galaxy Evolution, University of California, Irvine, AIM, CEA/DSM - CNRS, Irfu/SAP, Centre de Saclay, Infrared Processing and Analysis Center, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, 91125, Centre for Astrophysics & Supercomputing, Swinburne University, Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe, University of Tokyo, Cahill Center for Astrophysics, California Institute of Technology, Centre for Astrophysics & Cosmology, Science Institute, University of Iceland, Center for Gravitation and Cosmology, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Space Science Office, VP62, NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center, SLAC National Accelerator Center, Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology, Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics, University of Toronto, Computational Cosmology Center, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Astronomical Institute, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, Benoziyo Center for Astrophysics, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Johns Hopkins University, Centre for Astrophysics Research, Science and Technology Research Institute, University of Hertfordshire, Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes, Santa Cruz de la Palma

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