Supercomputer Simulations Test Star-destroying Black Holes

  • Released Friday, November 26th, 2021
  • Updated Wednesday, May 3rd, 2023 at 1:43PM

Watch eight model stars stretch and deform as they approach a virtual black hole 1 million times the mass of the Sun. The black hole’s gravity rips some stars apart into a stream of gas, a phenomenon called a tidal disruption event. Others manage to withstand their close encounters. These simulations show that destruction and survival depend on the stars’ initial densities. Yellow represents the greatest densities, blue the least dense.

Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Taeho Ryu (MPA)

Music: "Lava Flow Instrumental" from Universal Production Music

Watch this video on the NASA Goddard YouTube channel.

Complete transcript available.

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.

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