ScienceShot: Star Gulp Gives Black Hole Indigestion

A giant black hole in the constellation Draco bit off more than it could chew. On 25 March, NASA's Swift satellite detected an x-ray flare when a black hole 3.9 billion light-years from Earth tore a passing star to shreds. The flare arose because friction and gravity roasted the star's remains and made them glow brilliantly before the black hole swallowed them. Now, as astronomers report online today in Nature, the x-ray data as well as radio observations indicate the fireworks caused a narrow jet of material to shoot away from the black hole's outskirts. Similar jets emerge from other black holes, but this is the first time that astronomers have witnessed the birth of one. The black hole in Draco resides at the center of a far-off galaxy and is about the same size as the 4-million-solar-mass black hole marking the Milky Way's heart. Although our galaxy's black hole is currently quiet, this discovery means just one wayward star can spark a spectacle.

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