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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.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse under scrutiny for elite club affiliations

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse during a Senate hearing on Capitol Hill in February. Photo: Susan Walsh-Pool/Getty Image

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said in a statement Wednesday that he is a member of an exclusive Rhode Island sailing club that lacks diversity.

Why it matters: Whitehouse has repeatedly spoken out against systemic racism and come under scrutiny this week for his family's affiliation with elite clubs. This is the second such club accused of lacking diversity that the senator has been linked to in recent days

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Border Democrats want migrants vaccinated

Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Tex.) Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Some Democrats representing border districts want President Biden to vaccinate migrants crossing into the U.S. — especially if he lifts public health restrictions that have prevented them from claiming asylum on American soil.

Why it matters: Inoculating migrants treads a fine line of protecting the U.S. population while possibly incentivizing more migration with the offer of free COVID-19 vaccines. Republicans are likely to pounce on that.