Artwork illustrating a black hole eating a star. (Photo : NASA)
Black holes, those ruthless, giant swirling gobs of gravity, are so strong they suck in even light and can shred any kind of matter within its intense mass. Just what would it feel like to get sucked into one of these cosmic superpowers? Now scientists can tell you what it sounds like after recording the dying cries of a star being destroyed by a black hole. It's a very low D-sharp.
"You can think of it as hearing the star scream as it gets devoured, if you like," said lead author of the study, astronomer Jon Miller of the University of Michigan.
These screams don't just tell the scientists what dying at the hands of a black hole feels like. Instead, they can be used to study the physics and nature of black holes.
"This discovery extends our reach to the innermost edge of a black hole located billions of light-years away, which is really amazing," Reis said. "This gives us an opportunity to explore the nature of black holes and test Einstein's relativity at a time when the universe was very different than it is today."
The black hole Swift J1644+57 is located 3.9 billion light-years away. NASA's Swift satellite which detects gamma-ray bursts, discovered a series of gamma-ray bursts that astronomers hadn't seen before. The signals gradually faded out, and when scientists identified it as the sound of a star being taken apart by a black hole, they corresponded the signal with a really low D-sharp.
Apparently, the black hole had been lying quietly in place and ensnared the star in its grasp once the wandering star passed through its gravitational field.
The scientists confirmed that the type of signal observed is the same as those that come from smaller black holes from material that is about to be sucked in.
The reason scientists were able to pick up the signal this is because as a black hole sucks the gas from a star, it forms a hot, swirling mass of gas called an accretion disk that shoots out X-rays. Perpendicular to those jets, the black hole ejects matter at 90 percent the speed of light - it's one of these jets that was pointing straight at Earth.
Watch a black hole eating a star: