Monday, November 27, 2006

STELLAR CANNIBALISM: TRUE TALES FROM THE GALACTIC CENTER

A stellar mass black hole in our galactic center has been caught in the rare act of cannibalizing its own binary companion.
A weeks-long gamma ray burst has been detected by the European Space Agency’s Integral observatory.

This highly-energetic burst is thought to have been produced by the accretion of an active sun-like star being gradually ripped apart by its black hole companion. The star’s cannibalized gas surrounds the black hole in what is known as an accretion disk. But periodically, instabilities in this surrounding accretion disk will cause the star’s gas to be gobbled up by the black hole, releasing a burst of gamma rays that can last for days or weeks. Integral will devote a few more weeks to looking for more of the same.

Image: ESA

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