Black hole 'spaghettified' a star into a doughnut shape, and astronomers captured the gory encounter

An illustration of a hapless star being 'spaghettified' by a monster black hole like the one Hubble just detected
An illustration of a hapless star being 'spaghettified' by a monster black hole like the one Hubble just detected (Image credit: NASA, ESA, Leah Hustak (STScI))

The Hubble Space Telescope has spotted a star being stripped and stretched into a doughnut shape as a black hole devours it.

The supermassive black hole, located 300 million light-years from Earth at the core of the galaxy ESO 583-G004, snared and shredded the star after it wandered too close, sending out a powerful beam of ultraviolet light that astronomers used to locate the violent encounter.  

When a black hole feeds, its immense gravity exerts powerful tidal forces on the unfortunate star. As the star is reeled ever closer to the black hole's maw, the gravity affecting the regions of the star closer to the black hole is far stronger than that acting on the star's farside. This disparity "spaghettifies" the star into a long, noodle-like string that gets tightly wound around the black hole layer by layer — like spaghetti around a fork. 

This sequence of artist's illustrations shows how a black hole can devour a bypassing star. 1. A normal star passes near a supermassive black hole in the center of a galaxy. 2. The star's outer gasses are pulled into the black hole's gravitational field. 3. The star is shredded as tidal forces pull it apart. 4. The stellar remnants are pulled into a donut-shaped ring around the black hole, and will eventually fall into the black hole, unleashing a tremendous amount of light and high-energy radiation. (Image credit: NASA, ESA, Leah Hustak (STScI))

This doughnut of hot plasma quickly accelerates around the black hole and spins out into an enormous jet of energy and matter, which produces a distinctive bright flash that optical, X-ray and radio-wave telescopes can detect.

The exceptional brightness of this particular black hole feeding session allowed astronomers to study it over a longer time period than is typical for tidal disruption events. This could yield exciting new insights about the unfortunate star’s final moments, the researchers said.

Related: Wormhole simulated in quantum computer could bolster theory that the universe is a hologram

"We're looking somewhere on the edge of that donut," Peter Maksym, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said in a NASA statement (opens in new tab). "We're seeing a stellar wind from the black hole sweeping over the surface that's being projected towards us at speeds of 20 million miles per hour (three percent the speed of light). We really are still getting our heads around the event." 

For a star, spaghettification is a dramatic process. The outer atmospheric layers of the star are stripped first. Then, they circle the black hole to form the tight yarn ball the researchers observed. The remainder of the star soon follows, accelerating around the black hole. Despite black holes' reputation as voracious eaters, most of the star's matter will escape; only 1% of a typical star ever gets swallowed by a black hole, Live Science previously reported.

The results were reported at the 241st meeting of the American Astronomical Society, held in Seattle this week.

Ben Turner
Staff Writer

Ben Turner is a U.K. based staff writer at Live Science. He covers physics and astronomy, among other topics like tech and climate change. He graduated from University College London with a degree in particle physics before training as a journalist. When he's not writing, Ben enjoys reading literature, playing the guitar and embarrassing himself with chess.

  • Sinbob
    admin said:
    The black hole wrapped the layers of the shredded star around itself to form the perfect doughnut of doom.

    Black hole 'spaghettified' a star into a doughnut shape, and astronomers captured the gory encounter : Read more
    Instead of showing a artist's illustration of what is/was happening, show the actual photos. Those would be more mind blowing than an artist sketch
  • DavidAdas
    Black holes are actually black holes…. The singularity neither emits nor reflects light. Please make an effort to inform yourself before making such posts for all to see.
  • No1Cares
    MarinTomuta said:
    Blackholes aren’t black holes are they?
    It’s actually a galactic star, isn’t it? But why the colour inversion and artist’s depictions? What are you hiding and why?
    Spaghettification is an unscientific term as well.
    If anything you might say black whole as in all of darkness of space. It also seems racialist and sexist, to me.
    You think "black holes" is racialist and sexist? There are hardly words to describe how *perfect* of an example you are of our World's biggest problem, the half-witted accountability dodgers. There's not a soul, entity, intelligence, person nor being that cares, at all, about your feelings. They're your responsibility and no one elses', period.
  • bolide2
    MarinTomuta said:
    Thanks for replying. I don’t mind everyone seeing. I like open science & discussion don’t you? I’m not ashamed of not knowing, not understanding, not beLIEving or not taking anyone at their word. I’m expressing my honest feelings and thoughts about it. I can only point to Neil deGrasse Tyson and Chanda Prescod-Weinstein to show some physicists would rather not deal with coloured or female physicists.

    Regarding ‘blackholes’ to me the evidence I’ve seen is very iffy, even that actual image seems fake.
    It still seems like fiction & hypothes but trying to manufacture evidence for it. Same with wormholes, it just doesn’t make causal/logical sense, to me. Space is empty, it can’t be bent or curved, this only occurs because of objects that attract or repel each other. Like you and I would normally repel (two males).
    If we’re trying to explain why things go round in space a simple explanation to me is attraction (and repulsion) but between varying densities/magnitudes thus producing different gravitational pulls or repulsions, though I rarely see repulsion (things trying to avoid each other) in space.
    Space is dark and it’s mostly empty; how can it form into a solid spherical ‘hole’? I mean we can take air and reduce it to a sphere but how can this be done with already empty space? Imagination is the only thing that comes to mind thus making it more of a psychological theory. (I credit that thought to Beau Lotto):
    Can you recommend a forum where I can ask such questions about this? Where did you get your info from, especially that interesting statement of the singularity not emitting nor reflecting light? And how does a singularity form?
    To me it seems more mental and imaginary than actually observed.
    Check out this creepy audio-video from the ESA; doesn’t it seem like a created gif file and manipulatively eerie audio?

    Just a couple of basic points:

    Black holes are not made of empty space, they are made of matter, just like the sun, or the planets, or you, or me. They form when a sufficient mass of matter collects in one place.

    Mass has gravity. Even light is affected by gravity. The reason black holes don't emit or reflect light is because their gravity is so strong, that it prevents light from leaving. Just as if you launched a rocket but some of the engines failed, so it fell back to Earth because it couldn't overcome gravity.

    Because they don't emit or reflect light, they are invisible. That's why they are called 'black'--after the color.
  • bolide2
    Sinbob said:
    Instead of showing a artist's illustration of what is/was happening, show the actual photos. Those would be more mind blowing than an artist sketch
    Sure they would, if you could actually watch it happening. But the process in the illustrations actually takes place over millions of years, so there's no video. All we have is a few snapshots of one instant in that process, and not all of it takes place in visible light, either.
  • bolide2
    MarinTomuta said:
    Your explanation makes some sense but it’s all hypothesis, I gather. Per hypothesis, there is dark/invisible matter and presumably these ‘dark stars’ would be made of them, right?
    What I’m suggesting is that it’s a fabrication, fiction, imagination and a lie. I don’t buy that at the centre of our galaxy is such an object but rather a galaxy-sized star.
    I also don’t view objecting in space through spacetime but the physical objects theirselves.
    You’re saying all electromagnetic radiation cannot escape this blackhole? Then they cannot be detected, but by lucky glimpse of their processes, similar with supernovae.
    Just seems to me if ‘something’ starts with a hypothesis then tries to find evidence for its existence, it’s kind of not natural science.
    I’m not one to beLIEve then I’ll see. I think natural the scientist first sees/observes then seeks to explain.
    "I think natural the scientist first sees/observes then seeks to explain."

    And this is how they arrived at the idea of black holes. They observed phenomena that they couldn't explain, and this was the best explanation they came up with. That is, any other explanation they had was more problematic than this one. Believe me, they try very hard to explain things in terms of known laws and forces, before coming out with something new and unheard of.