Years after consumption, black hole ‘burps’ out star

An incredible, science-changing event occurred among the stars on Tuesday, Oct. 11. Observed by a NASA telescope in New Mexico, a black hole was discovered to be regurgitating materials from a star it had already consumed. This process has been described by scientists only as “burping.”
“A star was tidally disrupted by a black hole,” said Professor of Physics Jamie Lombardi, who specializes in astrophysics. “It got too close, it got ripped apart, and matter from that star funneled down into the black hole, helping to make a disk of material around it.”
The most surprising part, according to Lombardi, is that a lot of the matter was shot off the surface of the black hole two years later.
“Black holes are essentially an object with a very, very large amount of mass all compacted into a really, really small object,” said co-President of Astronomy Club Charlie Gibson, ’25. “When you look at a star, for example, it has pressure that will allow it to maintain its shape. But with a black hole, the gravitational pull is stronger than the pressure, causing it to collapse in on itself.”
According to NPR News, this black hole, estimated to be 660 million light years away from Earth, was spotted shooting materials out at half the speed of light several years after having ripped apart the star. Researchers were able to catch this because, during the time of the black hole burp, they were revisiting tidal disruption events.
A tidal disruption event describes the astronomical occurrence when a star approaches a black hole, and upon drawing close enough, experiences spaghettification — the annihilation that takes the form of the star being torn into long stands before being swallowed up, as explained by Time Magazine.
“Mainly what happens is the star gets torn apart by gravity because black holes are incredibly massive,” said Joseph Friedman, ’23, who is working on a senior comp simulating the process of a star colliding with a black hole. “The force of gravity on one side of the star will be much greater than it will be on the other side of the star, which effectively stretches it out. And this is where you get the term, spaghettification.”
According to Gibson, spaghettification is a “battle of gravitational pulls between the black hole and the star.”
However, this entire incident is abnormal in astronomy because this is novel black hole behavior. When a star approaches a black hole, an event horizon begins, which is the boundary in which a star can no longer escape, according to CTV News. The gravitational force stretches the star out. The materials heat up, creating a large flash that can be discerned from millions of light years away. Sometimes, material escapes during the tidal disruption event at 10% of the speed of light.
“But what is often significant is a star can get caught in a semi-stable orbit and go around the black hole for a while,” Friedman said. “And then eventually some imbalance causes it to be kicked out.”
Not only did this black hole regurgitate material years after consuming a star, but it did so at 50% of the speed of light. Scientists hypothesize that the star never reached the event horizon in the first place, according to NPR News. This implies that the ejected material may have been energy and matter that was never sucked up.
“There are possible explanations having to do with the objects, as they get closer, getting hotter and hotter and hotter, and then the radiation becomes so intense that the radiation itself can push off portions of the star mass that had been falling back down into the black hole,” Lombardi said.
This event is being monitored further by NASA scientists.
“But with this, we don’t necessarily know why this has happened because there’s been a really big time delay between the star being broken up and the heating up of that matter,” Gibson said.
There is a lot to be discovered about black holes, and this event, according to Time Magazine, will potentially reveal a lot more about the way black holes function. Already, the structure of tidal disruption events and the timing of them are being questioned.
“Now, they can start to look for more events like this,” Lombardi said. “If there’s a tidal disruption event where one of these stars is at least partially consumed by a black hole, they may now think to monitor that system for longer time periods afterwards.”