A White Dwarf Fell Pray To A Black Hole That It Orbits

An astronomer believes that he discovered a stellar corpse, commonly referred to as a white dwarf sending out dashes of light, SOS signals from its dangerously close orbit of a black hole. Unfortunately for the white dwarf, the black hole began consuming it.

Usually, such a white dwarf is the result of a star naturally consuming all of its fuel and exploding. However, scientists believe that, in this case, the black hole ate all of a former red giant’s free gas, which provoked a premature death. Though the black hole couldn’t entirely consume the star, it fed with as much as it could steal.

The Phenomenon

Andrew King, the author of the new research and an astrophysicist of the University of Leicester in the U.K, said that he believes that the white dwarf survived, but it hasn’t escaped.

“It is now caught in an elliptical orbit around the black hole, making one trip around about once every nine hours,” King added.

King’s latest research is based on data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the ESA’s XMM-Newton X-ray telescope.

It is known that the galaxy GSN 069, where the black hole is located, experiences a spike in X-ray emissions every nine hours or so.

King analyzed those spikes and formulated a theory of a “near-miss tidal disruption event.”

A tidal disruption event is an official term for when a black hole tears apart a star that ventures too close.

The Evolution Of The Process

When the red giant first snuck too close to the danger zone, the singularity stole all its hydrogen quickly, which turned the former giant into a white dwarf.

The supermassive black hole, which is approximately 400,000 times the mass of our sun, wasn’t able to entirely devour the poor star.

It ended up trapping the white dwarf in a nine-hour elongated orbit.

The sad part is that when the white dwarf nears its closes point of each loop, a small piece of its matter gets consumed by the black hole.

The white dwarf will continue shrinking with each orbit.

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