Artist's impression of a tidal disruption event
Artist's impression of the supermassive black hole at the centre of a galaxy accreting mass from a star that dared to venture too close to the galaxy's centre. This phenomenon is known as a tidal disruption event.
As the star starts feeling the gravitational pull of the black hole, it experiences a stronger force on one side than on the other – something that eventually breaks the star up. In the process, stellar material starts flowing onto the black hole, where part of it is accreted and the rest ejected, producing a sudden boost in the luminosity of the galaxy, especially in X-rays.
Astronomers studying a tidal disruption event in the galaxy PGC 043234, which is located some 300 million light-years away from us, have measured for the first time the physical properties of a newly formed accretion disc. The discovery, based on X-ray observations performed with various telescopes, including ESA's XMM-Newton, provided the first close-up look into the formation of a black-hole accretion disc after a tidal disruption event.