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Astronomers identify one of the the brightest objects in the sky

Illustration of the brightest object in the sky

Hidden in plain sight, the star-devouring black hole sheds new light on cosmic wonders.

Astronomers have discovered an incredibly luminous and long-lasting transient phenomenon involving a supermassive black hole tearing apart a star. Astronomers say that this is the most energetic cosmic phenomenon discovered to date. Nicknamed “Scary Barbie” by scientists, this extraordinary event remained hidden in telescope data for years.

Unraveling the Mysteries of “Scary Barbie”

“Scary Barbie,” or ZTF20abrbeie, is a transient phenomenon observed in the sky, characterized by its dramatic appearance, disappearance, or change over relatively short periods of time. Danny Milisavljevic, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Purdue University, considers this phenomenon the most energetic he has ever encountered, with a brightness surpassing even the most luminous supernovas by a thousand times.

A Star’s Demise in the Grasp of a Black Hole

Researchers, including graduate student Bhagya Subrayan, have analyzed the data and concluded that the bright, long-lived transient represents a black hole consuming a star. The immense gravitational forces of the black hole, known as tidal disruption, are believed to have pulled the star apart in a process called “spaghettification.” This extreme event resulted in the most luminous transient ever observed in the universe, lasting an unprecedented duration.

Hidden in Telescope Data for Years

Although “Scary Barbie” was first observed in 2020, it remained unnoticed due to its extreme distance and location in an overlooked part of the sky. Using an AI engine called the Recommender Engine For Intelligent Transient Tracking (REFITT), Milisavljevic’s lab uncovered the anomaly in observations from several telescopes worldwide, including the Zwicky Transient Facility at the Palomar Observatory in California.

The most energetic cosmic phenomenon

“Scary Barbie” is not only orders of magnitude brighter and more energetic than any other transient phenomenon recorded, but it also lasts significantly longer. While most transients persist for weeks or months, this phenomenon has lasted for over 800 days and may continue to be visible for years. Due to the law of relativity, the actual event may have been shorter, but the light reaching us appears to last nearly twice as long.

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