By request from my husband (yes, I take requests,) I’m posting about an extremely cool thing I read about on the Bad Astronomy site. It appears that NASA’s Swift telescope has seen a star being pulled apart by a black hole. http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2011/04/05/astronomers-may-have-witnessed-a-star-torn-apart-by-a-black-hole/
Swift was launched in 2004 and is designed to detect gamma-ray bursts (GRB’s.) According to Phil Plait, “Normal gamma-ray bursts are when supermassive stars collapse (or ultra-dense neutron stars merge) to form a black hole. This releases a titanic amount of energy, which can be seen clear across the Universe.”
The burst of energy detected on March 28 peaked at an astounding one TRILLION times our Sun’s brightness. And it’s almost four billion light years away. Imagine if it was closer (if you want nightmares.) The black hole that nommed the unlucky star is probably a supermassive black hole in the center of a distant galaxy.
There’s a follow-up post on Bad Astronomy with a photo from the Hubble telescope: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2011/04/07/followup-on-the-star-torn-apart-by-a-black-hole-hubble-picture/
This is the sort of thing that makes me happy to be alive.