The IceCube observatory detected a high-energy neutrino that was tracked down to an area where a star was ripped apart and eaten by a supermassive black hole.
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Once upon a time in a galaxy far far away a supermassive black hole ripped a star apart and ate roughly half of its matter. While feasting it fired off a massive jet of energy into surrounding space. And part of that jet was was a high-energy neutrino (roughly 0.2 PeV of energy) that got to us here on Earth.
On the 1st of October of 2019, the neutrino was detected by the IceCube Neutrino Observatory in the Antarctic. At the same time, Robert Stein from the German Electron Synchrotron (DESY) and his colleagues were observing the tragic fate of a star that got too close to a supermassive black hole of a faraway galaxy. The black hole ripped it apart and ate up a substantial part of its matter. It was one hell of a show.
This Tidal Disruption Event (TDE) happened in the same part of the Universe where the IceCube observatory tracked down the neutrino. Thus, Stein’s team concluded that the detected neutrino came from the supermassive black hole at the time of the star’s destruction. If that is the case, then it’s the first neutrino we observed coming from such an event.
As Stein said, astrophysicists have previously thought that such neutrinos might get created when stars get eaten by black holes. And it seems that our observations confirm it. To have such a high-energy neutrino get created a particle – usually a proton – has to be accelerated to extreme speeds and then it has to collide with other particles such as another proton or a photon. In such a collision a number of smaller particles including neutrinos get created. We only know of a few such extreme events. Now we can add TDEs to the list and these could become a major source of neutrinos out there in the Universe.
Though, there still is a problem as we do not know the exact mechanism that could accelerate the protons to such extreme speeds during a star being eaten. The mystery is only furthered by the fact that the neutrino was detected 154 days after the peak of observed activity. But perhaps it is caused by the black hole’s accretion disks and the massive magnetic fields that surround the supermassive black hole.
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