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Models capture the world-warping physics of what happens when stars meet black holes

When stars cross paths with a black hole, they risk being forever torn into a stream of gas – what’s known as a ‘tidal disruption event’. However, not all stars that pass through such an encounter are destined to become cosmic debris. After being stretched by a black hole’s tidal force – ‘spaghettification’, as it’s informally known – some stars can partially reform. And, as this video from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center illustrates, predicting which stars might survive these events isn’t always intuitive. Using computer models to simulate the process of eight different stars passing by a supermassive black hole, researchers found that the surviving stars weren’t cleanly divided by mass. In addition to bringing these astounding cosmic encounters into focus, the short video also illustrates how computer modelling is helping to deepen scientists’ understanding of complex and difficult-to-observe cosmological events.

Video by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Taeho Ryu

Producer: Scott Wiessinger

13 December 2021

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