Scientists have discovered the most predictable and frequent example
of flares from an active galaxy.
When they saw the first flare, called ASASSN-14ko ...
they thought it was the explosion of one of the galaxy’s billions of stars.
But after analyzing years of data from multiple observatories …
… and seeing the flares appear over and over again …
... they now think that it’s a giant star being slowly devoured
as it orbits the galaxy’s central black hole.
The black hole pulls gas from the star each time it passes closest,
every 114 days ...
… and the material falls toward the black hole,
eventually striking the disk of gas surrounding it.
That’s when the bright flares erupt.
The star loses enough gas each orbit to make three Jupiters.
Eventually the black hole will consume it entirely.
Astronomers eagerly await the next flare …
... and will continue to study this unusual process –
a black hole nibbling away at an unlucky star.