Scientists have long understood that massive black holes lurking in galactic nuclei and weighing millions of Suns can disrupt stars that come too close. Due to intense tidal forces, the black hole’s gravity pulls harder on the nearest part of the star, an imbalance that pulls the star apart over a period of hours, once it gets inside the so-called “tidal radius”.
Now, Matthieu Brassart and Jean-Pierre Luminet of the Observatoire de Paris-Meudon, France, say the strain of these tidal forces can also trigger a nuclear explosion powerful enough to destroy the star from within. They carried out computer simulations of the final moments of such an unfortunate star’s life, as it penetrates deeply into the tidal field of a massive black hole.When the star gets close enough the black hole (without falling into), the tidal forces flatten it into a pancake shape. Previous studies already performed by Luminet and collaborators twenty years ago had suggested this flattening would increase the density and temperature inside the star enough to trigger intense nuclear reactions that would tear it apart. But other studies had suggested that the picture would be complicated by shock waves generated during the flattening process, and that no nuclear explosion should occur.
The new simulations investigate the effects of shock waves in detail, and find that even when their effects are included, the conditions favour a nuclear explosion which will completely destroy the star, and which will be powerful enough to hurl much of the star’s matter out of the black hole’s reach.
Stellar fireworksThe tidal disruption of stars by black holes may already have been observed by X-ray telescopes such as GALEX, XMM and Chandra, although at a much later stage : several months after the event that rips the star apart, its matter starts swirling into the hole, heats up and releases ultraviolet light and X-rays. However, if pancake stars really do explode, then they could in principle allow these events to be detected at a much earlier stage. Future observatories, such as the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), which will detect large numbers of supernovae, could turn up some explosions of this type.
But this might be not the only hazard facing the doomed star. Brassart and Luminet calculated that the shock waves inside the stellar pancake carry a brief (The rate of such "flambeed pancake stars" is estimated to about 0.00001 event per galaxy. Since almost every galaxy – including our own Milky Way – harbors a massive black hole in its centre, and since the universe is transparent to hard X and gamma radiation, several events of this kind per year should be detectable within the full observable universe.
The planned high-energy, all-sky surveys are the best suited to detect more flares of this type because of their large sky coverage. By providing a quick localization of flambeed stellar pancakes, followed by the detection of the corresponding afterglows in the optical, infrared, and radio bands, these missions could bring as much to the understanding of stellar disruptions by black holes as the Beppo-Sax and Swift telescopes did for the comprehension of gamma-ray bursts.
Jean-Pierre Luminet | alfa
Tangled magnetic fields power cosmic particle accelerators
14.12.2018 | DOE/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
In search of missing worlds, Hubble finds a fast evaporating exoplanet
14.12.2018 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
The more objects we make "smart," from watches to entire buildings, the greater the need for these devices to store and retrieve massive amounts of data quickly without consuming too much power.
Millions of new memory cells could be part of a computer chip and provide that speed and energy savings, thanks to the discovery of a previously unobserved...
What if, instead of turning up the thermostat, you could warm up with high-tech, flexible patches sewn into your clothes - while significantly reducing your...
A widely used diabetes medication combined with an antihypertensive drug specifically inhibits tumor growth – this was discovered by researchers from the University of Basel’s Biozentrum two years ago. In a follow-up study, recently published in “Cell Reports”, the scientists report that this drug cocktail induces cancer cell death by switching off their energy supply.
The widely used anti-diabetes drug metformin not only reduces blood sugar but also has an anti-cancer effect. However, the metformin dose commonly used in the...
A research team from the University of Zurich has developed a new drone that can retract its propeller arms in flight and make itself small to fit through narrow gaps and holes. This is particularly useful when searching for victims of natural disasters.
Inspecting a damaged building after an earthquake or during a fire is exactly the kind of job that human rescuers would like drones to do for them. A flying...
Over the last decade, there has been much excitement about the discovery, recognised by the Nobel Prize in Physics only two years ago, that there are two types...
12.12.2018 | Event News
10.12.2018 | Event News
06.12.2018 | Event News
14.12.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering
14.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
14.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy