Stars “Scream” When Devoured by Black Hole

“In space… no one can hear you scream….” Or, maybe they can. Scientists from the University of Michigan have been able to detect an oscillating signal that occurs as a star is devoured by a previously dormant supermassive black hole.

The event was documented with the Suzaku and XMM-Newton orbiting X-ray telescopes. They picked up semi-regular “blips” in the light from a galaxy located 3.9 billion light years away from the constellation known as Draco the dragon. The proper name for the “blips” is “quasiperiodic oscillations”. The scientists noted that the quasiperiodic oscillations were happening every 200 seconds, and occasionally would disappear.

The cause of the “blips” was due to a black hole eating a star that has had its gravity broken apart. In short, the star forms an accretion disk that surrounds the black hole. The scientists looked at x-rays that allowed them to see emissions coming from the disk extremely close to the black hole. This is what produces a quasiperiodic wobble. The researchers compare it to the sound of an ultra-low D-sharp note.

John Miller is an astronomy professor at the University of Michigan, and a co-author of the paper about the quasiperiodic oscillations that was recently published in Science Express. He said:

“You can think of it as hearing the star scream as it gets devoured, if you like”.

Personally, that isn’t something I want to think about. There is something inherently creepy about the concept of a star “screaming” as it is being devoured by a black hole. Imagine the sound of that ultra-low D-sharp as you watch this NASA animation of a black hole devouring a star.