Home / Science / News /  Mysterious sky flash is a black hole pointing straight at Earth: Scientists

Astronomers have reported that a mysterious and ferociously bright flash of visible light that came towards Earth originated from a black hole that is directly pointing at us. The discovery marks both the farthest such event that scientists have ever reported as well as the first instance in which one was discovered using visible light.

Stars that approach a black hole too closely are ripped to pieces, and the explosion is audible throughout the cosmos. A tidal disruption event, or TDE, is when plasma and radiation are ejected from one side of a black hole in about 1% of instances.

The term "jetted-TDEs" refers to those unusual occurrences, which have been compared to grabbing a tube of toothpaste and having material shoot out of both ends. They are hardly ever observed by scientists, and they know even less about how they actually occur. In an effort to comprehend them better, scientists scan the sky for indications of the phenomena in the hopes that they can point cutting-edge telescopes at them when they occur.

That incident occurred in February when astronomers observed an intriguing burst of visible light that prompted researchers to point some of the most sophisticated telescopes in the world in its direction. The light came from a region of the sky where no such light had ever been seen before, and it appeared to emit more light than 1,000 trillion suns. The scientists there were ecstatic as they watched that.

The team, which was led by scientists from NASA, Caltech, and other institutions, posted their discovery to an astronomy newsletter, where the signal caught the interest of astronomers from all over the world, including MIT researchers. A number of telescopes narrowed in on the signal over the following few days to collect more information at various wavelengths in the X-ray, ultraviolet, optical, and radio bands to determine what could possibly produce such a massive amount of light.

The current consensus among scientists is that it originates from AT 2022cmc, one of those jetted-TDEs. The jet most likely developed when a nearby star was suddenly devoured by a black hole, sending energy out into the universe and directly at us.

AT 2022cmc is the fourth Doppler-boosted TDE ever detected and the first such event that has been observed since 2011. It is also the first TDE discovered using an optical sky survey.

They discovered that it was coming from a very remote location, farther away than any other event of a like nature. When the universe was roughly one-third the age it is today, light that had already reached Earth began its journey across space.

But because the jet is directly pointed at us, it is both more intense than usual and visible over a wider area of the electromagnetic spectrum, which is why it was so unusually bright and visible.

Astronomers used it to find the TDE, which has already shattered a number of records. The hope is that it will be used to discover more, so they can be better understood and provide more information about black holes. As more powerful telescopes start up in the coming years, they will reveal more TDEs, which can shed light on how supermassive black holes grow and shape the galaxies around them.

Two new papers present the findings. One was published in Nature under the title "A very luminous jet from the disruption of a star by a massive black hole," and the other was published in Nature Astronomy under the title "The Birth of a Relativistic Jet Following the Disruption of a Star by a Cosmological Black Hole."

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