A black hole is a mysterious and hungry creature. But they do more than just consume anything that comes too close. Black holes are behind the biggest explosion in space, shoot boomerangs, and create their own planets.
They also harbor strange mysteries. When black holes die, what happens to everything they ate? Why did a black hole flash in 2019 when science argues that they cannot flash? New discoveries could have spectacular answers.
A Star Turned Into Space-Pasta
A star perished in 2019. One half blew into space. A black hole shredded the other half into long tendrils and munched them. This coined the foody phrase of “death by spaghettification.” As peculiar as that was, the event was also unique for reasons other than deserving a dollop of pasta sauce.
When a star dies, it releases a flash of energy known as a tidal disruption event. In this case, it was both the closest tidal event near Earth (215 million light-years away) and the clearest. Once astronomers detected it, they watched for months—in incredible detail—how the black hole tore the star in half.
The devastation revealed a clue about where tidal flashes come from. While the whole story is still a bit hazy, they are definitely connected to the debris leaking from a failing star.
This Black Hole Shoots Boomerangs
Around 17,000 light-years from Earth, a black hole is nibbling on a star. The pair is simply known as XTE J1550-564. At first, there was nothing surprising about them. Black holes snack on starlight. Old news. But in 2020, researchers looked at old X-ray images of XTE J1550-564 and something did not add up.
In an attempt to get to the bottom of the strange data, the information was fed into a computer simulation. It revealed how some of the light made a dash for freedom. This, in itself, was not unusual. When light is trapped in the accretion disk (the dust swirl around a black hole), then it can still get away. But the light that escaped from XTE J1550-564 did something strange.
Normally, when light makes a successful escape, it bounces against the disk and then shoots into space in a straight line. But these beams first curled back towards the black hole. When the light eventually reflected off the disk, they looked like boomerangs. The phenomenon had not been seen before or since.