According to astronomers, an extremely bright flash seen in the night sky in February was caused by a black hole pointing directly at Earth. This is the farthest such event that scientists have ever reported, and it is the first time one has been detected using visible light.
The most recent findings are detailed in two papers. One was published in Nature as ‘A very luminous jet from the disruption of a star by a massive black hole.’ ‘The Birth of a Relativistic Jet Following the Disruption of a Star by a Cosmological Black Hole,’ the other paper, was published in Nature Astronomy.
Scientists explained that the bright light that came towards Earth was caused by a star straying too close to a supermassive black hole, where it was ripped to shreds. The unusual cosmic event occurred 8.5 billion light years away from Earth. On February 11, the signal from the luminous explosion, known as AT 2022cmc, was detected by the Zwicky Transient Facility at the California Institute of Technology’s Palomar Observatory.
Astronomers believe that when stars get too close to a black hole, they are ripped to shreds, and the resulting explosion can be heard throughout the universe. This is referred to as a tidal disruption event, or TDE. Astronomers have previously observed such events, but AT 2022cmc is brighter than any previously discovered. It is also the most distant object ever observed.
When the black hole devoured the star, scientists believe it released a massive amount of energy and sent a jet of material streaking across space at near the speed of light. The luminous explosion was most likely visible in our sky because the jet was pointed directly at Earth, causing a “Doppler-boosting” effect.
The astronomers stated in their paper that gamma-ray bursts, which are powerful X-ray jets released as massive stars collapse, typically explain the brightest flashes in the night sky. “However, as bright as they are, a collapsing star can only produce so much light. Because AT 2022cmc was so bright and lasted so long, we knew it was powered by something truly massive – a supermassive black hole “Dr. Benjamin Gompertz, coauthor of the Nature Astronomy study, stated.
According to Dheeraj Pasham, study author of the Nature Astronomy paper, AT 2022cmc was “100 times more powerful than the most powerful gamma-ray burst afterglow previously recorded.” Astronomers are still puzzled as to why some tidal disruption events produce jets while others do not. More events like this, they said, could reveal how black holes launch such powerful jets across space.