There’s a new paper coming out telling of the observations (over two years) of the swallowing of a star by a black hole, from beginning to end. There’s no nice picture showing this, I’m afraid – the picture to the right (click for larger) is an artist’s impression (see description below). The team, led by Caltech’s Dr. Suvi Gezari, used the Galaxy Evolution Explorer and data from Chandra and some ground based telescopes, to track the ultraviolet radiation emitted from the star as it was consumed by the hole.
From the NASA/JPL press release:
… Gezari and her colleagues have, for the first time, watched a similar feeding frenzy unfold, as it happens, through the ultraviolet eyes of the Galaxy Evolution Explorer. They used the telescope’s detectors to catch an ultraviolet flare from a distant galaxy, then watched the flare diminish over time, as the galaxy’s central black hole consumed the star. Additional data from Chandra, the Canada France Hawaii Telescope in Hawaii and the Keck Telescope, also in Hawaii, helped the team chronicle the event in multiple wavelengths over two years.
The supermassive black hole presumably pulled the star apart and as the matter that made up the star entered the black hole, it heated up to extremely high temperatures, emitting X-rays and UV radiation. The graphic above (click for larger view) shows the star in three stages: Before being squashed and pulled apart, after, and then the stellar matter in the process of spiralling into the black hole.
The Galaxy Evolution Explorer is a telescope dedicated to studying galaxies by looking at electromagnetic radiation in the UV part of the spectrum. It is perfect for viewing objects and events of this sort. More on the instrument here.