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Scientists have spotted a bright flash of light emitted by a star as it was destroyed by a black hole 215 million light-years away.

Why it matters: Black holes are some of the most extreme and difficult to study objects in the universe, and these types of rare events could help researchers piece together more about their nature.

What they found: A new study detailing the death of the star in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society explains that the star went through an event called "spaghettification" where it was ripped apart when it came too close to a supermassive black hole.

  • "In this case the star was torn apart with about half of its mass feeding — or accreting — into a black hole of one million times the mass of the Sun, and the other half was ejected outward," astronomer Edo Berger, an author of the study, said in a statement.
  • This event — named AT2019qiz — is the closest of its kind ever found to Earth, giving scientists a wealth of data on it.
  • While astronomers have seen these types of events in the past, this is the first time they saw mass ejected outward, away from the black hole, giving them more insight into how black holes grow.

The big picture: Usually astronomers have trouble seeing these events because they are typically clouded by gas and dust, but AT2019qiz was seen quickly after the star was gobbled up, before the material shot away from the black hole could obscure their view.

  • "This is a unique 'peek behind the curtain' that provided the first opportunity to pinpoint the origin of the obscuring material and follow in real time how it engulfs the black hole," Kate Alexander, another author of the study, said in the statement.

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Jan 12, 2021 - Science

Scientists discover 10 billion-year-old "super-Earth" planet

Artist's illustration of the planet TOI-561b. Image: W. M. Keck Observatory/Adam Makarenko

Scientists have discovered a rocky “super-Earth” planet in an ancient star system that likely formed 10 billion years ago, only a few billion years after our Milky Way galaxy came to be.

Why it matters: The newfound planet likely can't support life, but in general, researchers think older planetary systems have better odds of possibly harboring life because they're long-lived.

House passes $768 billion defense spending bill

Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The House approved a $768 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for the 2022 fiscal year in a bipartisan 316-113 vote on Thursday.

Why it matters: The annual bill, which authorizes Pentagon spending levels and guides policy for the department, would require women to register for the military draft, among other provisions.

6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Republicans’ secret lobbying

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The five Senate Republicans who helped negotiate and draft the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill have been privately courting their Republican colleagues to pass the measure in the House.

Why it matters: House GOP leaders are actively urging their members to oppose the bill. The senators are working to undercut that effort as Monday shapes up as a do-or-die moment for the bipartisan bill.