On March 28 2011, NASA’s Swift telescope detected several bright bursts of X-rays coming from a patch of the sky where no such rays have been detected before. NASA said the galaxy is so far away, it took the light from the event approximately 3.9 billion years to reach Earth. The event was the start point of one of te most destructive events any place in this big bad universe, the destruction of a star by a black hole. Thanks to the barely funded NASA it’s wonderfilled technology, hardware and associated ubergeeks, humanity now has some pretty amazing graphics of this inter-galactic spectacular !
Two teams of scientists, led by David Burrows of Pennsylvania State University and Ashley Zauderer of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, say the bursts observed were probably chunks of a star that was ripped apart as it wandered too close to the black hole. Scientists have witnessed the aftermath of this event many times over, but never have they seen the destruction from the onset. The source of the high-energy emissions has been named Swift J1644+57. It has been identified as a previously dormant black hole in the Draco constellation 3.9 billion light years from Earth.
“With this event, we’re seeing a new class of object in the sky, one we think is directly tied to the feeding behavior of a galaxy’s supermassive black hole,” said Neil Gehrels, Swift’s lead scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “Such events likely will give us unprecedented insight into what happens deep in the heart of active galaxies, such as quasars and blazars.”
The star was orbiting the black hole before it was devoured and so it continues to circle around the hole, which reportedly weighs a million suns, as they gradually get swallowed up. Images from Swift’s Ultraviolet/Optical and X-ray telescopes were combined to create mesmerizing pictures of the behemoth black hole devouring chinks of a flailing star. The blast was detected only in X-rays, which were collected over a 3.4-hour period on March 28.
“Incredibly, this source is still producing X-rays and may remain bright enough for Swift to observe into next year,” said David Burrows, lead scientist for the mission’s X-Ray Telescope instrument. “It behaves unlike anything we’ve seen before.”
Most galaxies – including our own – possess a central supersized black hole weighing millions of times the Sun’s mass. According to the new studies, the black hole in the galaxy hosting Swift J1644+57 may be twice the mass of the four-million-solar-mass black hole in the center of the Milky Way galaxy. As a star falls toward a black hole, it is ripped apart by intense tides. The gas is corralled into a disk that swirls around the black hole and becomes rapidly heated to temperatures of millions of degrees. The source of the recently witnessed high-energy emissions has been named Swift J1644+57. It has been identified as a previously dormant black hole in the Draco constellation 3.9 billion light years from Earth. The innermost gas in the collapsing star spirals toward the black hole, where rapid motion and magnetism create dual, oppositely directed ‘funnels’ through which some particles may escape. Jets driving matter at velocities greater than 90% the speed of light form along the black hole’s spin axis. In the case of Swift J1644+57, one of these jets happened to point straight at Earth, click click.
Swift is a first-of-its-kind multi-wavelength observatory dedicated to the study of gamma-ray burst (GRB) science. Its three instruments will work together to observe GRBs and afterglows in the gamma ray, X-ray, ultraviolet, and optical wavebands. The main mission objectives for Swift are to:
- Determine the origin of gamma-ray bursts
- Classify gamma-ray bursts and search for new types
- Determine how the blastwave evolves and interacts with the surroundings
- Use gamma-ray bursts to study the early universePerform the first sensitive hard X-ray survey of the sky
Swift’s hard X-ray survey detects supermassive black holes in the hearts of nearby galaxies that are absorbing gas and emitting energy. The survey has uncovered dozens of previously unknown active black holes that were hidden from observations at other wavelengths. These discoveries confirm theoretical ideas about how black hole activity is triggered. Swift, launched in November 2004, is managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. It is operated in collaboration with Penn State, the Los Alamos National Laboratory in N.M. and Orbital Sciences Corp., in Dulles, Va., with international collaborators in the U.K., Italy, Germany and Japan. MAXI is operated by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency as an external experiment attached to the Kibo module of the space station.
A rare cosmic event such as this is unlikely to be witnessed again by scientists, we’re pretty sure that won’t stop them staring at the stars though. Burrows estimates that it happens about once every 10,000 years. The reason it was detected this time round was that the radiation bursts were shot directly toward the Swift observatory.