Supercomputer Simulations Test Star-destroying Black Holes
Watch as eight stars skirt a black hole 1 million times the mass of the Sun in these supercomputer simulations. As they approach, all are stretched and deformed by the black hole’s gravity. Some are completely pulled apart into a long stream of gas, a cataclysmic phenomenon called a tidal disruption event. Others are only partially disrupted, retaining some of their mass and returning to their normal shapes after their horrific encounters.
These simulations are the first to combine the physical effects of Einstein’s general theory of relativity with realistic stellar density models. The virtual stars range from about one-tenth to 10 times the Sun’s mass.
The division between stars that fully disrupt and those that endure isn’t simply related to mass. Instead, survival depends more on the star’s density.
Scientists investigated how other characteristics, such as different black hole masses and stellar close approaches, affect tidal disruption events. The results will help astronomers estimate how often full tidal disruptions occur in the universe and will aid them in building more accurate pictures of these calamitous cosmic occurrences.