Imagine a star (like our sun) wandering close to a supermassive black hole and finding itself mercilessly ripped apart by this beast weighing millions to billions times more than the hapless star. It doesn’t happen very often. But when it happens, it’s pretty spectacular. And now NASA has produced a computer simulation showing this spectacle, drawing on evidence gathered by NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer and the Pan-STARRS1 telescope located in Hawaii. Here’s how NASA describes what you’re seeing in the clip above:
Some of the stellar debris falls into the black hole and some of it is ejected into space at high speeds. The areas in white are regions of highest density, with progressively redder colors corresponding to lower-density regions. The blue dot pinpoints the black hole’s location. The elapsed time corresponds to the amount of time it takes for a Sun-like star to be ripped apart by a black hole a million times more massive than the Sun.