(CNN) Black holes have a reputation for snacking on stars, but some of these celestial garbage dumps may be messier than others, according to new research.
Used by astrophysicists 3D computer models to show that intermediate-mass black holes take a few bites from errant stars before shedding the stellar crumbs and leaving a cosmic trail.
The researchers made the discovery while running simulations on black holes of various masses and sending sun-sized stars into them. Clues discovered experimentally could help astronomers find intermediate-mass black holes by looking for evidence of their behaviors.
During the simulations, the intermediate-mass black hole snapped the star in its orbit, and every time the star made another lap, the black hole took another bite from it. When only the star’s dense, misshapen core was left, the black hole ejected it and sent it flying across the galaxy.
A study describing the modeling analysis has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal, and the findings will be presented Tuesday at the April meeting of the American Physical Society.
“Obviously we can’t directly observe black holes because they don’t emit light,” said lead study author Fulya Kıroğlu, a doctoral student of astrophysics. at Northwestern University’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences in Evanston, Illinois, in a statement. He is also a member of the university’s Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics.
“So, instead, we have to look at the interactions between black holes and their environments. We find that stars undergo multiple passages before being ejected. After each passage, they lose more mass, which causes a natural light as (it is) torn Each flare is brighter than the last, creating a signature that can help astronomers find them.”
The search for the elusive black hole
Astrophysicists are still trying to prove whether intermediate-mass black holes exist in the first place. Celestial objects, estimated to be between three and 10 times the mass of our sun, are created when exploding stars collapse.
The mass of a medium-mass black hole is thought to be in between that of a supermassive black hole and a lesser black hole. A supermassive black hole is found at the center of most massive galaxies and may be millions to billions of times the mass of our sun.
“Their presence is still disputed,” Kıroğlu said. “Astrophysicists find the evidence they have, but that evidence can often be explained by other mechanisms. For example, what appears to be an intermediate-mass black hole may actually be the accumulation of a stellar-mass black hole.”
During the 3D modeling experiment, the stars completed up to five orbits around an intermediate-mass black hole before being kicked out. With each pass, the star lost mass as it slowly ripped apart. The debris is ejected at high speeds back into space – enough to create a bright pattern of light that astronomers can watch in their quest to prove the existence of an unseen medium-mass black hole.
“It’s amazing that the star wasn’t completely torn apart,” Kıroğlu said. “Some stars may get lucky and survive the event. The ejection velocity is so high that these stars can be identified as hyper-velocity stars, observed in the centers of galaxies.”