In 2018, a black hole tore apart a star and consumed it. Almost three years later, the black hole “burped out” some of the stellar material in a phenomenon astronomers claim they have never seen before.

Stars are destroyed terribly when they get close enough to supermassive black holes. This kind of occurrence is referred to as a “tidal disruption event” (TDE). After the star has been destroyed, the material will begin to spread out in all directions. The intense force of gravity pulls the star apart, causing the material surrounding the black hole to swirl and emit light, which we can observe. On the other hand, in AT2018hyz, an unbelievable and hitherto unknown event occurred. The star was broken, and the material was strewn everywhere. Then, after another three years, the black hole released more material into the universe.

Yvette Cendes, who works at the Center for Astrophysics at Harvard and the Smithsonian Institution, is the person who is credited with being the main author of a new paper. She claims that this took all of us by complete surprise. Nobody has ever seen anything quite like that before in their entire lives.

A drawing of a cloud of plasm around a bright jet released by a black hole

Artist’s impression of a tidal disruption event. Image Credit: DESY, Science Communication Lab


When it was first spotted in 2018, AT2018hyz was not thought to be anything particularly remarkable. The emission appeared to be compatible with a small star with a mass of one-tenth that of our sun being ripped apart by the black hole. On the other hand, while the team was looking for other TDEs, they observed that this object bubbled up again in an extraordinary manner.

The material expelled from the black hole was propelled at speed approximately 50 percent that of light. That is five times quicker than most TDE outflows can accomplish. Whatever is going on in this system, it’s strange.

“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 black hole is first consuming the star,” said Edo Berger, professor of astronomy at Harvard University and the CfA, and co-author on the new study.

“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.”

The finding of such an occurrence raises fascinating questions regarding the behavior of supermassive black holes. Astronomers have long known that these cosmic giants make a mess when they eat, but their eating habits remain a mystery.

Researchers Kate Alexander and Aprajita Hajela from Northwestern University, Ryan Chornock, Raffaella Margutti, and Daniel Brethauer from the University of California, Tanmoy Laskar from Radboud University, Brian Metzger from Columbia University, Michael Bietenholz from York University, and Mark Wieringa from the Australia Telescope National Facility also contributed to the study as co-authors.

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