Science News

Curated by RSF Research Staff

How do Stars Die when they Fall into a Supermassive Black Hole?

The gravitational potential energy of any massive body decreases with distance, so only at a specific critical point will an entity feel the force of that massive body. For a black hole this critical point – defining the point of no return for anything travelling towards it - is known as an event horizon. Although theoretically accepted, based on Einstein’s general relativity, these critical boundaries have never been directly observed.

The Event Horizon Telescope, which currently utilizes very long-range interferometry facilities to observe in the millimeter/submillimeter range, hopes to find evidence for Schwarzschild radius scale structure and thus event horizons. However, due to its proximity, this has only been possible for Sgr A*, our very own Supermassive Black Hole (SMBH) located in the center of the Milky Way.

Now a team of astronomers, Lu, Kumar and Narayan, believe they have found a way to proof their existence. They propose that if a black hole had a ‘hard’ surface with no event horizon then when stars fall on to that surface – we would observe a luminous envelope formed from the shock of impact. Utilizing data from the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) – which surveys the sky across multiple wavebands on a continual bass – the team were able to rule out the existence of such emission and thus proof the existence of event horizons.


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