Black holes, the universe’s gravitic vacuum cleaners, are the beating heart of most galaxies. They are also nature’s most irresistible force sucking gases, space debris, planets, even whole stars into their hungry maws.
When a black hole goes on a feeding frenzy the event is accompanied by an intense cosmic burst. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) monitors the far reaches of the cosmos continuously for telltale signs of such events.
Now NASA has detected an incredible cosmic blast in the center of a far distant galaxy located more than 3.8 billion light years away from Earth. A light year is the distance that light, traveling at 186,000 miles per second, travels in one year: nearly six trillion miles.
The gigantic blast is incredibly intense and has lasted much longer than any ever recorded.
Frightening destructive power
The cosmic detonation has sent shock waves tearing through the universe. The raw, frightening destructive power of the event has catapulted huge streams of X- and gamma rays—spreading a deadly swath of roiling destruction—through entire regions of deep space.
NASA has proclaimed the titanic explosion “one of the most puzzling cosmic blasts ever observed.” The American space agency scrambled to swing the mighty Hubble Space Telescope along with the Swift satellite and orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory into alignment to zero in on the stellar catastrophe.
Swift telescope astronomers have labeled the explosion as gamma-ray burst (GRB) 110328A. Star watchers worldwide have been notified and are being urged to study it.
Some are humbled
In a tight-lipped press release, the stunned space agency stated: “More than a week later, high-energy radiation continues to brighten and fade from its location. Astronomers say they have never seen such a bright, variable, high-energy, long-lasting burst before.”
The normally low-key NASA went on to admit that “Usually, gamma-ray bursts mark the destruction of a massive star, and flaring emission from these events never lasts more than a few hours.”
Astronomers are excited, but others are humbled by the event. Those that are shaken point out that an event like that in our galaxy could destroy the entire solar system. If such a thing occurred close enough to the solar system the Earth—and everything for light years around it—would be vaporized in a matter of seconds.
Scientists believe the mammoth fury erupted when a star drifted too close to a giant black hole. The star “wandered too close to its galaxy’s central black hole,” NASA explained.
A massive black hole is literally tearing chunks out of the dying star and sucking it down into its voracious gravity gullet.
NASA explained: “Intense tidal forces probably tore the star apart, and the infalling gas continues to stream toward the hole. According to this model, the spinning black hole formed an outflowing jet along its rotational axis. A powerful blast of X- and gamma rays is seen when the jet is pointed in our direction.”
That the light and intensity of the galactic destruction could reach across almost 4 billion light years to Earth is in itself mind-boggling. To accomplish that the collision of the star and black hole had to shine with the brilliance of a trillion suns.
The event also had to be pointed directly at Earth…from almost 4 billion light years away.
The destroyed star, of course, is long gone. The incident occurred so long ago the Earth had not yet been fully formed.