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Black Hole Spotted Feasting on Passing Star

Gamma-ray burst leads astronomers to 'feeding frenzy'
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 21, 2011 3:00 AM CDT

(Newser) – The super massive black hole at the heart of a galaxy in the Draco constellation has been caught in the middle of a meal—and it's a messy eater. Scientists analyzing an unusually long-lasting burst of gamma rays from the constellation 4 billion light years away believe they are witnessing the black hole devouring a star that was sucked in after its orbit brought it too close, Reuters reports. Researchers believe such events only happen in any one galaxy once every 100 million years.

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"We have this otherwise dormant black hole, not gobbling up an appreciable amount of mass, and along comes this star which just happens to be on some orbit which puts it close to the black hole," a researcher says. "This was a black hole which was otherwise quiescent and it sort of has an impulsive feeding frenzy on this one star." The bursts of gamma rays emitted as the star was torn apart were spotted by NASA's Swift spacecraft, which scans the skies for flashes of radiation. (Read more black hole stories.)

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