Massive black hole swallows meal so big it sets a record

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Astronomers have observed a large black hole consuming the remains of a destroyed star for an unusually long period of time, according to a NASA news release.

This activity reportedly lasted for about a decade, or as the release states, "more than ten times longer than any observed episode of a star's death by black hole."

The discovery was made when three telescopes—the Chandra X-ray Observatory, the Swift satellite, and the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton—detected a tidal disruption event, or TDE, "wherein the tidal forces due to the intense gravity from a black hole can destroy an object – such as a star – that wanders too close."

During such events, as some of the stellar debris "travels inwards to be ingested by the black hole, the material...heats up to millions of degrees and generates a distinct X-ray flare."

Scientists suspect that the extraordinarily long period of bright flaring could mean, according to the release, that "this was either the most massive star ever to be completely torn apart during one of these events, or the first where a smaller star was completely torn apart."

As one of the researchers, Stefanie Komossa, has said, "This event shows that black holes really can grow at extraordinarily high rates...This may help understand how precocious black holes came to be."

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