Watching a Star Fall Into a Black Hole

#Science

Fri, Apr 8th, 2011 21:00 by capnasty NEWS

Astronomers are very excited about being able to witness first hand a star that is being torn apart by a black hole. The event is taking place 3.8 billion light years away from here. That's about 40,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 kilometers. That's far. As Phil Plait, the creator of the Bad Astronomy blog explains:

The gravity from [a black hole] is fierce. But worse, the strength of gravity fades with distance. That may seem like a saving grace -- being farther from a black hole means its gravity is diminished -- but in fact that's what spelled doom for this star, because that drop in strength can be very sharp for a black hole. As the star approached this bottomless pit, the side of the star facing the black hole was pulled far harder than the other side of the star, which may have been a million or more kilometers farther away from the black hole. This change in pull stretched the star -- this stretching is called a "tide", and is essentially the same thing that causes tides on the Earth from the Moon's gravity... and when the star wandered too close to the black hole, the strength of that pull became irresistible, overcoming the star's own internal gravity.

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