Chandra: A Giant Black hole Destroys a Massive Star

Using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, ESA’s XMM-Newton and other telescopes, astronomers have determined that a giant black hole, 290 million light-years away, has destroyed a large star and strewn its contents into space. This event, a “tidal disruption event,” or TDE, titled ASASSN-14li, is shown in an artist’s illustration below. By analyzing the details of the X-ray data, as shown in the inset, the team were able to estimate the relative amount of nitrogen compared to carbon in the aftermath of this gravitational assault. The amount of nitrogen and the maximum amount of carbon that could escape detection gives a minimum value for the ratio of nitrogen to carbon that agrees with the data. This value indicates that the shredded star in ASASSN-14li was about three times the mass of the Sun. This would make it one of the largest stars ever known to be devastated in a TDE.

This research was featured in the 8/25/23, edition of “This Week @NASA.” For more information:

Chandra Tidal Event

Chandra Release - August 22, 2023Credit: NASA/CXC/Univ of Michigan/J. Miller et al.; Illustration: NASA/CXC/M. Weiss. Visual Description: ASASSN-14li.

This release features an artist's illustration of red stellar debris swirling around a giant, spherical black hole. The debris field represents the remains of a star with three times the mass of our Sun, which was ripped apart by the black hole's immense gravity. This tidal disruption event is known as ASASSN-14li. Its aftermath was studied by NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, ESA's XMM-Newton, and other telescopes.

At the center of the illustration is the spherical black hole, half-submerged in the debris field, which resembles the top half of a jet-black ball. The ball sits at the core of the disk-shaped debris field, which is composed of distinct orange and red rings. A long, wide, ribbon of red cloud, representing part of the star's residual gas, enters the illustration at our lower left corner. This ribbon of red gas sweeps toward our center right across the black, starry sky. There, the gas curves back to the left, behind the black hole. Drawn in by gravity, the ribbon of gas encircles the ringed disk of brick red and golden orange stellar debris. This debris orbits, and eventually falls into, the black hole. Faint blue mist appears to radiate from the black hole and the orbiting stellar debris field. This mist represents the portion of stellar gas driven away from the ringed disk by a wind.

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