Star dies by “spaghettification” as it’s consumed by supermassive black hole

This illustration depicts a star (in the foreground) experiencing spaghettification as it’s sucked in by a supermassive black hole (in the background) during a tidal disruption event.

Astronomers have witnessed an extremely rare occurrence: the end of a star’s life, as it’s obliterated by a supermassive black hole. And this particular star’s collapse was even more unique, because it experienced death by “spaghettification” — and no, that’s not science fiction.

According to a new study in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, astronomers at the Zwicky Transient Facility spotted a blast of light, known as a tidal disruption event, that indicated the star’s death in September 2019. Researchers said this week that it was the closest such a phenomenon has ever occurred to Earth, taking place just over 215 million light years away.

“The idea of a black hole ‘sucking in’ a nearby star sounds like science fiction. But this is exactly what happens in a tidal disruption event,” said lead author Matt Nicholl, from the University of Birmingham in the U.K.

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