The light that has traveled more than 8.5 billion years to reach us was the last breath of a dying star before it was sucked up by a black hole.
The unexplained gleam in the sky in February 2022, AT2022cmc, was determined by two separate study teams to be the astrophysical jet that erupted from the massive black hole as the torn star fled beyond its event horizon.
It is unusual for us to see one of these meals in progress because AT2022cmc is currently the object that is the farthest from us that we have ever observed.
The two articles were published, respectively, in Nature and Nature Astronomy.
The last time one of these jets was discovered, according to astronomer Michael Coughlin of the University of Minnesota Twin Cities in the US, was more than ten years ago.
“According to the data we have, we can infer that only 1% of these destructive events launch relativistic jets, making AT2022cmc a very uncommon occurrence. In fact, the event’s luminous flash is one of the brightest ones ever recorded.”
In our chaotic universe, there is a lot happening. Many of these encounters and events, such as supernovae, fast radio bursts, stellar collisions, interactions in compact binaries, and black hole feeding frenzy, are unpredictable, spewing out transient flares of light that blaze across the depths of space before dissipating.
We can only see the brightness of these enormous but fleeting cosmic events by carefully scanning wide areas of the sky.
Flares Captured By Scientists
Such a flare was captured at the Zwicky Transient Facility in February. In the moments that followed, 20 other telescopes on Earth and in space went into action and began collecting data on the rapid flame.
A team of researchers led by Coughlin and the astronomer Igor Andreoni of the University of Maryland came to the conclusion that the event was caused by a tidal disruption event as a result of the abundance of data available.
The offender? a rapidly rotating, half a Sun every year, 500 million times more massive than the Sun supermassive black hole that is consuming star material.
Read: New 3D Intergalactic Map Will Unveil Details About Dark Matter, Black Holes And Stars
What Are These Tidal Disruption?
Extreme events called tidal disruption events happen when a star travels just a little bit too close to a black hole. The star is pulled so forcefully by the tidal forces in the gravitational field of that black hole that it is ripped apart. The star fragment then hits the black hole.
When this happens, a light flare is created. If the flare is bright enough, we can see it from Earth, but it eventually fades away. The light that astronomers observed from AT2022cmc was not caused by that.
“The first three days were very typical. When we used an X-ray telescope to examine it, we discovered that the source was too bright, “says MIT astronomer Dheeraj Pasham, the paper’s lead author.
“The strongest gamma-ray burst afterglow was 100 times weaker than this particular incident. It was remarkable in every way.”
An astrophysical jet was the source of the light, according to analysis. Not all of the material that is swirling about a black hole when it feeds always makes it over the event horizon.
Particles are released from the black hole’s poles at speeds that are nearly equal to the speed of light by material that is channeled along magnetic field lines that are just outside the event horizon.
Read more: Newfound ‘Monster’ Black Hole May Be The Closest To Earth
Why Does AT2022cmc Appear Brighter?
One of those jets, in the instance of AT2022cmc, is aimed directly at us and moving at 99.999% the speed of light. Near-light-speed motion causes a change in the frequency of the light’s wavelength, which causes the material to appear brighter than it actually is. Relativistic beaming, also known as Doppler boosting, is the term used to describe this phenomenon.
Only four Doppler-boosted tidal disruption events have ever been detected, including AT2022cmc.
Scientists believe that we can gain a great deal of knowledge from this dying light from more than half the universe. For instance, it is unclear why certain tidal disruption events feature jets while others do not. The black hole’s quick spin could play a key role in the development of jets.
Additionally, it is not known how supermassive black holes develop and form. High feeding rates, like those displayed by the AT2022cmc black hole, may be able to explain the situation.
Using an optical survey, the event was also the first jetted tidal disruption event to be discovered. Future astronomers will be able to identify more of them thanks to the vast amounts of data that has been gathered. Astronomy is evolving quickly, claims Andreoni.
A greater number of optical and infrared all-sky surveys are currently underway or will shortly do so. Researchers can utilize AT2022cmc as a guide for what to search for in order to discover other disruptive events from far-off black holes.
As a result, big data mining is now more crucial than ever for advancing our understanding of the universe.