NASA Swift Mission: Sun Like Star’s ‘Death Spiral’ Mapped into a Black Hole

By Cresswell McCoy | Mar 21, 2017 11:01 AM EDT

A Sun like star wandered too close to the central black hole of its galaxy around 290 million years ago. The star was torn apart due to intense tides and it produced an eruption of optical, ultraviolet and X-ray light. NASA's Swift mission has mapped out the different wavelengths produced in the event, named ASASSN-14li.

The shattered star's debris circled the black hole and scientists have discovered that brightness changes in X-rays. They believe that the optical and UV emission arose far from the black hole, where elliptical streams of orbiting matter crashed into each other as per NASA.

Astronomers think that the sun like star wandered too close to a 3 million solar mass black hole, which is similar to the one at the center of the "Milky Way." The event horizon of a black hole is around 13 times bigger than the sun. A star is stripped off its own gravity by tidal forces when it passes too close to a black hole with 10,000 times more than the sun's mass.

However, in this particular event the emission from the star seems to be located much further than the point where the black hole tides could shatter the star. The gas emitting the light seemed to remain steady on its temperatures for much longer than expected. The ASASSN-14li was discovered on November 22, 2014.

Scientists have figured out that tidal debris initially falls toward the black hole but overshoots. This event where the sun like star mapped into a black hole was different, for further understanding future observations of other tidal disruptive events need to be made in order to clarify the origin of optical and ultra violet light. NASA's swift mission will help to understand these unusual events that take place in space. Scientists are on to further research to draw to an understanding of the X-rays and UV emissions.

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