Astronomers Have Discovered A Dormant Black Hole That Consumed A Star And Became An X-Ray Flashlight.

( — August 24, 2016) Fort Worth, Texas — Most of what astronomers know about super massive black holes is gleaned from just a handful of black holes that are actively gathering and consuming matter. 

Research suggests that active black holes account for only approximately 10 percent of the total number of super massive black holes in the universe.  Therefore, in their ongoing effort to understand black holes, any information about the activity of dormant black holes is extremely valuable to astronomers.

For a black hole to be considered to be dormant, it must not be actively consuming matter and , consequently, not giving off any form of radiation or light.  On occasion though, a star will come to close to a dormant black hole, be pulled in, and the result, known as a tidal disruption event, will set off breathtaking fireworks.

Astronomers from the University of Michigan, working in conjunction with colleagues from the University of Maryland, recently reported such activity being found in the vicinity of a super massive dormant black hole known as Swift J1644+57.

When a tidal disruption event takes place, the stellar debris that is pulled in by the previously dormant black hole, creates a thick swirling circle of hot gas, known as an accretion disk.  The accretion disk then gives off flashes of X-ray light, similar to a pulsing flashlight.  It was these X-rays emanating from within the once dormant black hole named Swift J1644+57, that allowed the astronomers to confirm this tidal disruption event.

This marks the very first time that astronomers have been able to compile such detailed findings from such an event occurring with a dormant super massive black hole.

The astronomers were stunned at the speed at which Swift J1644+57 consumed the wandering star.  The event briefly exceeded the Eddington limit, the theoretical maximum speed limit of exactly how quickly a black hole can consume matter.

The astronomers hope that this experience will help them in further understanding just how super massive black holes can grow to be so large, in some cases up to several million times the size of the sun.

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