Black hole spewing out star years after eating it confuses astronomers

A black hole that was burping up chunks of a star several years after consuming it stunned astronomers.

Scientists have classified the event as AT2018hyz, which began in 2018 when astronomers saw the black hole in space suck in a star with its gravitational pull before destroying it.

In 2021, the black hole began burping out the star after a signal citing unusual activity was picked by a New Mexico radio telescope.

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While there has been previous cases of black holes eating stars before vomiting them out, this is the first time the ejection has only ever taken place at the same time as the initial meal.

The researchers published their findings in The Astrophysical Journal on October 11.

Lead author Yvette Cendes, an astrophysicist at the Harvard and Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics expressed her shock as she said: "This caught us completely by surprise — no one has ever seen anything like this before".

A black hole’s consumption of a star is called a tidal disruption event (TDE) due to the powerful tidal forces that act upon the star from the black hole's gravity.

AT2018hyz has been seen as an unusual event as not only did it take three years after consuming the star to emit a flash, but the speed of the material that exited its mouth was at a staggering rate.

Most TDE outflows travel at 10% the speed of light, but the ejected star matter of AT2018hyz travelled as fast as 50% the speed of light.

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Co-author Edo Berger, a Professor of Astronomy at Harvard University said: "We have been studying TDEs with radio telescopes for more than a decade, and we sometimes find they shine in radio waves as they spew out material while the star is first being consumed by the black hole.

"But in AT2018hyz there was radio silence for the first three years, and now it's dramatically lit up to become one of the most radio luminous TDEs ever observed."

Cendes believes it could be expelling its earlier meal later than usual.

"It's as if this black hole has started abruptly burping out a bunch of material from the star it ate years ago," Cendes explained.

"This is the first time that we have witnessed such a long delay between the feeding and the outflow," Berger said.

"The next step is to explore whether this actually happens more regularly and we have simply not been looking at TDEs late enough in their evolution."

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