Scientists have seen for the first time the entire process of a black hole eating a star:
"This type of event is very rare, so we are lucky to study the entire process from beginning to end," said Dr. Suvi Gezari of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif. Gezari is lead author of a new paper appearing in the Dec. 10 issue of Astrophysical Journal Letters.
For perhaps thousands of years, the black hole rested quietly deep inside an unnamed elliptical galaxy. But then a star ventured a little too close to the sleeping black hole and was torn to shreds by the force of its gravity. Part of the shredded star swirled around the black hole, then began to plunge into it, triggering a bright ultraviolet flare that the Galaxy Evolution Explorer was able to detect.
Today, the space-based telescope continues to periodically watch this ultraviolet light fade as the black hole finishes the remaining bits of its stellar meal. The observations will ultimately provide a better understanding of how black holes evolve with their host galaxies.