Scientists at have witnessed a black hole swallowing a star and ejecting a flare of matter that looks to be moving almost at the speed of light for the first time.
"These events are extremely rare," Sjoert van Velzen, first author of the study from John Hopkins University, said in a press release. "It's the first time we see everything from the stellar destruction followed by the launch of a conical outflow, also called a jet, and we watched it unfold over several months.
"Previous efforts to find evidence for these jets, including my own, were late to the game."
Although one current theory hinges on the belief that the release of any form of light from a black hole proves that our traditional conception of them is incorrect, the current team of researchers see things differently. Previous predictions claimed that when a black hole is fed a large amount of gas, the result will be a high-speed jet of plasma that can break past the black hole's event horizon. The results of their current study suggest that this prediction is correct.
After ruling out the possibility that the light excretion was due to an "accretion disk," which is a large, swirling mass that occurs due to a black hole drawing in matter from space, the scientists confirmed that the light released from the galaxy was stimulated by a trapped star.
"The destruction of a star by a black hole is beautifully complicated, and far from understood," said van Velzen. "From our observations, we learn the streams of stellar debris can organize and make a jet rather quickly, which is valuable input for constructing a complete theory of these events."
The study was published in the Nov. 26 issue of the journal Science.