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Black hole fires beam of energy at Earth while swallowing star

Black hole fires beams at Earth while destroying star: a massive black hole has been discovered devouring a star, causing the star to shoot beams of energy at Earth. The event is thought to occur only once every 100 million years.

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Astronomers were even luckier to have been able to witness the event with such detail and clarity, since the jet of X-rays and high-energy gamma rays were punched out along a rotation axis that placed Earth in the eye of the beam.

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“The best explanation that so far fits the size, intensity, time scale, and level of fluctuation of the observed event, is that a massive black hole at the very center of that galaxy has pulled in a star and ripped it apart by tidal disruption," said Andrew Levan of the University of Warwick in the U.K., lead author of a companion piece that was also published in Science. "The spinning black hole then created the two jets, one of which pointed straight to Earth.”

A lucky view

Essentially, astronomers here on Earth are looking down the barrel of the jet, witnessing an event which is likely to happen about once in 100 million years in any given galaxy, Bloom said.

"This is part of the special nature of the event," he said. "What we have is a geometrical rarity on top of an already rare event. I would be surprised if we saw another one of these anywhere in the sky in the next decade."

The astronomers suspect that the gamma-ray emissions began on March 24 or 25, at a distance of about 3.8 billion light-years away. And while they are still detecting activity from this event, Bloom and his colleagues estimate that the emissions will fade over the next year.

And while this may be an incredibly rare event, it does help astronomers further understand how black holes grow.

"I think this adds another piece of evidence that black holes grow organically by gobbling not just other black holes during mergers of galaxies, which is one of the ways people think black holes grow, but they also grow by eating up their surroundings in the form of gas and stars," Bloom said. "If this picture is right, black holes grow in many different ways. It addresses some unanswered question in astrophysics: these infants aren't just feeding on one baby product, namely merging with brethren, but they're gobbling up different types of foodstuffs."

You can follow SPACE.com Staff Writer Denise Chow on Twitter @denisechow. Follow SPACE.com for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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