Nothing – including light – can escape a black hole once it’s fallen in, but the process of swallowing gas, dust, or ripping apart whole stars can cause the formation of an accretion disknear the event horizon. These disks can thrust streams of plasma called relativistic jets across the entire length of a galaxy, while hitting temperatures of 10 million degrees Celsius or more.
First detected by NASA’s Swift space telescope, the event was then tracked by the Japanese researchers, who called on scientists from 26 locations around the world to point their optical telescopes at V404 Cygni.
For two weeks, the astronomers were able to observe flashes of light being released by the newly active V404 Cygni, which is one of the closest known black holes to Earth. It was woken up when the gravitational pull of its partner star pulled the two in too close, causing the black hole to strip away the surface matter of the star, before the whole thing fell in to release an incredible burst of radiation.
For the first time, astronomers have witnessed the light produced by this event using an optical telescope.
Team hypothesizes that the light originates from X-rays produced in the centre of the accretion disk, and these X-rays irradiate and heat up the outer region of the disk, which causes it to emit optical rays.
While more research is needed to confirm this, it’s beyond exciting to think of how much more we stand to learn about black holes now that we have a new way of observing them – and it’s something anyone can help with if they have a good telescope at home.
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