Doomed star swallowed by black hole creates ‘incredibly bright’ flash, researchers say

ESO/M. Kornmesser

You might have missed it, but astronomers didn’t.

In February, telescopes around the world turned to the same point in the night sky — an “incredibly bright” flash lingering in distant space.

Far away, a star was torn apart by a supermassive black hole in what’s called a tidal disruption event (TDE), researchers said in a study published Nov. 30.

In its final moments, the star started spewing out matter at nearly light speed, releasing tremendous amounts of energy as it was destroyed and swallowed, according to a release.

This TDE, dubbed AT 2022cmc, is the brightest ever seen and, at 8.5 billion light years away, also the farthest.

“Because AT 2022cmc was so bright and lasted so long, we knew that something truly gargantuan must be powering it — a supermassive black hole,” Benjamin Gompertz, assistant professor at the University of Birmingham, said in a release.

Researchers at the Zwicky Transient Facility in California were the first to spot it, but the event quickly caught international attention among astronomers, and researchers with MIT and the University of Birmingham collaborated on the study.

The doomed star’s flash was estimated to be brighter than “1,000 trillion suns,” MIT said in a release.

The reason AT 2022cmc was so bright to Earth’s observers, researchers say, is that the jet of matter was pointed directly at us. This is the fourth such “doppler boosted” TDE ever recorded and the first seen since 2011.

While black holes display great destructive power, there’s much science doesn’t know about them, and continued observations of TDE’s could reveal a lot about their behaviors, researchers said.

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