NASA’S Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which has been tasked with searching space for new planets witnessed more than it bargained for.
The incredible phenomenon, called a tidal disruption event, is extremely rare – occurring only once every 10,000 to 100,000 years – and this is the first time TESS has captured such a moment.
Although TESS was able to capture the phenomenon just months after launching in April 2018, NASA says scientists have only been able to observe approximately 40 tidal disruptions in history.
Padi Boyd, the TESS project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said:
For TESS to observe ASASSN-19bt so early in its tenure, and in the continuous viewing zone where we could watch it for so long, is really quite extraordinary.
Future collaborations with observatories around the world and in orbit will help us learn even more about the different outbursts that light up the cosmos.
The full findings, which were published in The Astrophysical Journal, as per WOSU Radio, make clear that the conditions have to be just right for a black hole to tear apart a star; the star can’t be too close that it simply gets sucked up, and it can’t be too far that it bounces off and out into the galaxy.
Although scientists are yet to fully understand why tidal disruptions produce so much UV emission and so few X-rays, S. Bradley Cenko, Swift’s principal investigator at Goddard, has offered a number of theories.
One such theory is that the light bounces through the newly created debris and loses energy, while another is that perhaps the disk forms further from the black hole than initially believed and so the light isn’t as affected by the object’s extreme gravity.
More early-time observations of these events may help us answer some of these lingering questions.
Whatever the answer is, I think we can all agree this is perhaps the most impressive footage to come out of NASA in recent years.