The awesome spectacle of a black hole ripping a star to shreds can be seen in this striking new visualization from the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY), a particle accelerator lab in Hamburg, Germany.
Such events are known as stellar tidal disruptors, and they are fairly rare, occurring just once every 10,000 years in a typical galaxy, according to NASA. Stars are typically flung toward a ravenous black hole after interacting gravitationally with another star or massive object, only to become stretched and devoured should they come too close to the black hole's maw in a process called spaghettification.
Gravitational tidal forces, similar to the ones that cause the moon to raise tides on Earth, are responsible for most of the destruction. At first, the star's outer atmospheric layers will get pulled toward the black hole, spinning around its edge like water going down a drain and forming what's known as an accretion disk, as the video depicts.
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Surprisingly, the black hole only consumes about 1% of a star's mass, according to NASA. The majority will actually get catapulted back out into space in the form of enormous jets of energy and matter that shoot from the black hole's central region.
These jets can sometimes light up the cosmos, allowing astronomers on Earth to catch glimpses of distant black holes, which are otherwise mostly invisible. Tiny, ghostly particles called neutrinos will also be flung from the black hole, occasionally giving researchers insights into processes occurring during the consumption event.
Some of the star's material does fall past the event horizon, the point after which nothing, including light, can escape. The visualization shows some of the strange optical effects that the event horizon produces, such as bending light so much that regions at the back of the accretion disk can be seen from its front.
Witnessing how swiftly the black hole dismembers and dispatches the star is an excellent reminder that no one should want to get anywhere near such a powerful object any time soon.
Originally published on Live Science.
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Adam Mann is a freelance journalist with over a decade of experience, specializing in astronomy and physics stories. He has a bachelor's degree in astrophysics from UC Berkeley. His work has appeared in the New Yorker, New York Times, National Geographic, Wall Street Journal, Wired, Nature, Science, and many other places. He lives in Oakland, California, where he enjoys riding his bike.