Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2004 February 24
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X-Rays Indicate Star Ripped Up by Black Hole
Illustration Credit: M. Weiss, CXC, NASA

Explanation: What could rip a star apart? A black hole. Giant black holes in just the right mass range would pull on the front of a closely passing star much more strongly than on the back. Such a strong tidal force would stretch out a star and likely cause some of the star's gasses to fall into the black hole. The infalling gas has been predicted to emit just the same blast of X-rays that have recently been seen in the center of galaxy RX J1242-11. Above, an artist's illustration depicts the sequence of destruction (assuming that image-distorting gravitational-lens effects of the black hole are somehow turned off). Most of the stellar remains would be flung out into the galaxy. Such events are rare, occurring perhaps only one in 10,000 years for typical black holes at the center of typical galaxies.

Tomorrow's picture: boat the rock

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