Using the NEOWISE space telescope, astronomers discovered 18 black holes that “tore apart and swallowed” nearby stars.
During this process, the black hole emits a huge burst of energy across the electromagnetic spectrum.
The relevant study was published in the Astrophysical Journal, writes the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Astronomers decided to look for black holes in the infrared range. The idea was that not all of the energy from collapsing stars is emitted in visible and X-ray light.
|PHOTO: Massachusetts Institute of Technology
“Most of these sources do not appear in the optical ranges. If you want to understand TDEs in general and use them to study the demography of a supermassive black hole, you need to observe in the infrared“, says lead study author Megan Masterson, a graduate student at MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Studies.
Scientists looked at the archive of NEOWISE observations of one-off bursts of infrared light within 600 million light-years of Earth. They found that infrared transients can be traced in about 1,000 galaxies.
The NEOWISE satellite telescope was launched in 2009 and, after a short hiatus, continued to scan the entire sky for infrared “transients” or short flashes.
Now, looking in the infrared, astronomers have been able to see TDEs – disruptions where a nearby star is pulled into a black hole and torn apart.
The team’s new results show that black holes can gobble up stars in a number of galaxies, not just the universe.
“If you look up in the sky and see a bunch of galaxies, TDEs will happen in all of them, not just one type of galaxy, as people thought based on optical and X-ray studies alone“, says Masterson.
The 18 new cases of stellar eclipses will also allow astronomers to estimate the rate at which TDEs occur in a given galaxy, the scientists said. Analysis of the events of the destruction of stars by black holes also allowed them to calculate that the galaxy can experience such an event approximately once every 50,000 years.
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