Astronomers at MIT and elsewhere have observed infrared signals from the closest tidal disruption event (TDE) to date.
At “only” 137 million light-years, a black hole in the galaxy NGC 7392 devours a star in the closest tidal disruption event to our planet.
Once every 10,000 years or so, the center of a galaxy is illuminated when its supermassive black hole rips apart a passing star.
This ‘tidal disruption event’ occurs literally in an instant, as the central black hole pulls in stellar material and expels enormous amounts of radiation in the process.
Astronomers know of about 100 tidal disruption events (TDEs) in distant galaxies, based on the burst of light reaching telescopes on Earth and in space.
Most of this light comes from X-rays and optical radiation.
Tuning beyond the conventional X-ray and UV/optical bands, MIT astronomers have discovered a new TDE event, glowing brightly in the infrared.
It is one of the first times that scientists have directly identified in infrared wavelengths.
Furthermore, the new outburst turns out to be the closest TDE event observed to date: the flare was found in NGC 7392, a galaxy that is about 137 million light-years from Earth, corresponding to a region in our cosmic backyard. which is a quarter of the size of the nearest TDE.
This new flare, labeled WTP14adbjsh, did not stand out in the standard X-ray and optical data.
Scientists suspect that these traditional studies missed nearby TDE, not because it did not emit X-rays and ultraviolet light, but because that light was obscured by a huge amount of dust that absorbed radiation and gave off heat in the form of infrared energy.