Snapshot: Hubble hunts for cosmic carnage

The space telescope is seeking evidence of stars torn asunder by a supermassive black hole.
By | Published: March 17, 2020 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
The spiral galaxy NGC 1589 hosts a supermassive black hole in its bright core.
ESA/Hubble & NASA
What happens to a star when it’s ripped apart by a supermassive black hole? Astronomers are using the Hubble Space Telescope to try to answer that question.

The spiral galaxy NGC 1589 – located almost 170 million light-years away in the constellation Taurus the Bull – is like most galaxies: It has a supermassive black hole deep in its core. Previously, astronomers witnessed an energetic belch from the center of this galaxy they suspected was a star being violently shredded by the galaxy’s black hole. Now, they’re using Hubble to test their best guess.

Hubble has spotted these types of events in other galaxies before, so astronomers are confident it can do the same for NGC 1589. And as for the image above – which captures the galaxy’s bright core thinly veiled by light-blocking clouds of cosmic dust – that’s just a beautiful byproduct of science.