WTF Fun Fact 13537 – Black Hole Eating A Star

There’s a black hole eating a star out there at an astonishing rate.

University of Leicester astronomers discovered a star, similar to our Sun, that a relatively small black hole is devouring. Every close orbit results in the star losing a mass equivalent to three Earths!

Watching a Black Hole Eating a Star

The research, chronicled in Nature Astronomy, could be the “missing link” in understanding how black holes disrupt the stars that orbit them. Funded by the UK Space Agency and the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council, this discovery is instrumental in propelling our grasp of celestial phenomena.

An intense X-ray flash originating from the center of galaxy 2MASX J02301709+2836050 is what initially captured the team’s attention. That galaxy is approximately 500 million light-years from the Milky Way.

The anomaly has been designated as Swift J0230. And it was detected in real-time thanks to a pioneering tool designed for the Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory.

Further investigations revealed a curious pattern: Swift J0230 would radiate intensely for about a week, then go dark, resuming its cycle roughly every 25 days.

How a Black Holes “Eats” Star

This behavior parallels certain phenomena involving stars having materials torn by black holes due to close orbits. However, the Swift J0230’s emission pattern positioned it as a bridge between two known categories of these eruptions.

Drawing from existing models, researchers concluded that Swift J0230 demonstrates a Sun-sized star, trapped in an elliptical orbit around a black hole with low mass, situated at the core of its galaxy.

As this star nears the black hole, a gravitational tug wrests away material equivalent to three Earth masses. This process superheats the material to about 2 million degrees Celsius, triggering the massive X-ray emissions detected by the Swift satellite.

Unprecedented Research

Dr. Phil Evans, the lead author, remarked on the unprecedented nature of this find: a Sun-like star being intermittently torn apart by a relatively small black hole. Labeling the phenomenon as “repeated, partial tidal disruption,” Dr. Evans highlighted that such events had been rare finds until now, falling into one of two categories based on their frequency. This new discovery bridges the gap, providing a more comprehensive understanding.

Dr. Rob Eyles-Ferris, who contributed to the Swift satellite study, emphasized the singularity of Swift J0230. Unlike most observed systems where stars are entirely destroyed, this system offers insights into a middle ground. The finding unifies the two previously identified categories of partially disrupted stars.

Further, Dr. Kim Page, part of the study’s data analysis team, is confident that many more similar objects await discovery.

In terms of mass, the team estimates that the black hole is between 10,000 to 100,000 times that of our Sun. That’s a mere fraction when compared to supermassive black holes typically anchoring galaxies. For perspective, our galaxy’s central black hole weighs in at 4 million solar masses.

The Tool That Helped Detect the Black Hole Eating a Star

The University of Leicester team conceptualized and designed a novel transient detector for the Swift satellite, facilitating this breakthrough. This tool instantly detects astronomical X-ray transients—rare and extreme X-ray bursts in previously silent sky regions.

Dr. Caroline Harper, the Head of Space Science at the UK Space Agency, praised the globally-acclaimed Swift mission, shedding light on a minuscule black hole periodically “snacking” on a Sun-like star. The mission’s continued partnership with NASA promises further invaluable cosmic insights.

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Source: “Ravenous black hole consumes three Earths’-worth of star every time it passes” — Science Daily

WTF Fun Fact 13534 – The Roundest Object in the World

When it comes to spherical perfection, nothing we’ve ever discovered in space beats Kepler-11145123, the roundest object in the world. This distant star is located about 5,000 light-years away from Earth.

What Defines “Round”?

Before diving into Kepler-11145123, it’s essential to understand what we mean by “round.” Most celestial objects take on a somewhat spherical shape due to the gravitational forces pulling matter toward their centers. However, the force of their rotation tends to squash them at the poles and widen them at the equator, causing an oblate spheroid shape. The difference between the equatorial and polar diameters of a celestial body measures its “roundness.”

Kepler-11145123 was initially discovered as part of NASA’s Kepler mission, designed to find exoplanets by observing stars and the tiny dimming caused by planets passing in front of them. While that was Kepler’s primary task, its trove of data fueled other groundbreaking research as well. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany used these precise observations to study the star’s oscillations, which provided clues about its internal structure and, fascinatingly, its shape.

A Surprising Level of Perfection

What truly sets Kepler-11145123 apart is the astonishingly small difference between its equatorial and polar diameters. The star’s equatorial diameter exceeds its polar diameter by a mere 3 km, despite having a diameter of 1.5 million km overall. This difference is microscopic on a cosmic scale and represents an unprecedented level of spherical perfection. For context, the disparity between the Earth’s equatorial and polar diameters is about 42 km, a figure that suddenly feels gigantic compared to this distant star.

The Science Behind the Shape

Kepler-11145123’s almost-perfect roundness is intriguing and prompts the question: how did it get so round? One leading hypothesis is that magnetic fields within the star could be redistributing mass, making it more spherical. However, researchers also point out that the star’s slow rotation rate plays a significant role. The slower an object rotates, the less it gets flattened due to centrifugal forces. Kepler-11145123 spins at a much slower rate than our Sun, thus maintaining its almost perfect shape.

Broader Implications of Being the Roundest Object in the World

The discovery of Kepler-11145123’s unique shape has broader implications for our understanding of astrophysics. It forces scientists to reevaluate models of star evolution, as well as the role magnetic fields play in shaping celestial bodies. Furthermore, this finding might have implications for exoplanet studies. A star’s shape can influence the stability of its planetary orbits, which in turn could have consequences for planetary climates and habitability.

Why Should We Care About the Roundest Object in the World?

Apart from the sheer wonder of discovering such a perfectly round object in space, understanding Kepler-11145123 can help scientists refine their models of stellar behavior and evolution. These models are fundamental to our grasp of the universe, from the life cycles of stars to the forces that shape galaxies. The more accurate our models become, the better we can understand a host of other phenomena, including potentially habitable exoplanets.

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Source: “Distant star Kepler 11145123 is the roundest object ever observed in nature” — Astronomy Now

WTF Fun Fact 13437 – Nuclear Pasta

Luckily, nuclear pasta is not coming to a dinner plate near you.

Imagine the densest material in the universe. It’s far harder than a diamond. In fact, this stuff is ten billion times stronger. Nestled in the heart of a neutron star, there’s a material that goes by the name: nuclear pasta.

Why is it called nuclear pasta?

Welcome to the most outlandish, mind-boggling part of astrophysics. Neutron stars, the remnants of massive stars that exploded as supernovae, pack twice the mass of our sun into a sphere just 20 kilometers in diameter. As a result, these objects have some truly wild properties.

If you were to dig into the heart of a neutron star, you’d see layers of complexity. As you delve deeper, things get denser and denser. Around halfway to the center, the density of the material becomes so great that the atomic nuclei become squished into a variety of shapes. Scientists believe they resemble pasta types, hence the nickname.

But what makes this stuff special?

According to research, these are likely the densest and hardest substances in the universe. In fact, one sugar cube of nuclear pasta would weigh as much as a mountain.

Theoretical physicists and astrophysicists have been trying to simulate nuclear pasta to better understand its properties. According to a 2018 study, nuclear pasta may be the strongest material in the universe. It’s not only incredibly dense but also has a shearing resistance tougher than steel’s.

This immense density results in intense gravitational fields, causing the pasta shapes to align themselves into an incredibly tight lattice structure. This structure could play a crucial role in various neutron star phenomena, including starquakes, glitches, and even gravitational waves.

Interestingly, nuclear pasta doesn’t exist naturally on Earth, and for a good reason – it’s way too dense and strong for our environment. But the fact that it exists in the universe opens up a whole new realm of physics.

Discovering the existence of nuclear pasta is also vital for understanding neutron stars better. These stars are not only fascinating in their own right but also play a crucial role in the life cycles of galaxies. Understanding more about neutron stars could, therefore, lead to insights about how galaxies, including our own Milky Way, evolve over time.

There’s still so much to learn about neutron stars. But one thing’s for sure – the universe is full of fantastic and surprising structures!

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Source: “What is nuclear pasta?” — BBC Sky at Night Magazine