Watch Scientists Hurl Stars at Black Holes to See What Survives in Incredible Simulation

A new supercomputer simulation shows what would happen to eight stars circling a supermassive black hole with a mass that is 1 million times that of the sun.

The simulation showed how the tremendous gravitational influence of the black hole would cause forces similar to those that the moon causes to create the tides on Earth, squeezing and stretching the stars.

Eventually, some of the orbiting stars are completely shredded by these tidal forces, pulled apart and stretched into a long stream of gas, in a powerful and violent occurrence called a tidal disruption event.

Luckier stars are just partially disrupted, holding on to some of their mass, and eventually even returning to their normal shapes after a close brush with the black hole. The stars in the simulation ranged from one-tenth of the mass of our sun to 10 times its mass.

The simulations conducted by the researchers, including Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics' Taeho Ryu, mark the first time that realistic models of stars have been united with those showing the physical effects of Einstein's theory of general relativity.

Ryu is the lead author of a paper detailing the simulation and its findings published in The Astrophysical Journal.

The team of researchers found that the dividing line between whether the stars were destroyed or survived the encounter with a central black hole was down to both the mass that they possessed and their density.

The team didn't stop there when it comes to measuring the characteristics of the objects within their simulation. They also altered the masses of the central black hole and adjusted how close the orbiting stars came to it.

They then attempted to see how changing these characteristics altered the tidal disruption events experienced by the stars.

The simulation created by Ryu and his team could help astronomers and astrophysicists better understand events such as that witnessed in a dwarf galaxy 480 million light-years from Earth by 27 antennas that comprise the Very Large Array telescope located in the desert of New Mexico in 2017.

Dillon Dong, an astronomer at the California Institute of Technology, and his team observed a sudden and powerful burst of radio energy as bright as one that would normally be associated with an exploding star or supernova.

Knowing that the signal must have come from a violent cosmic event, they found that it likely came from a black hole that fell into its stellar binary partner after spiraling together for centuries.

This caused the star to be devoured from the inside out by the black hole, a process that created the powerful jet of material that escaped into space at near light speed and was eventually detected by Dong and his team.

A better understanding of how black holes devour stars could also help astrophysics solve mysteries that surround how black holes grow to massive sizes.

A Black Hole Consumes a Star
A stock illustration shows a jet of material torn apart and consumed by a black hole. Researchers have created a simulation that shows what happens when stars venture too close to a central black hole. JPL-Caltech/NASA