Supermassive black holes lurk in the centers of galaxies, hungrily vacuuming up everything within reach — or so we think. But the truth is less dramatic. Supermassive black holes snack infrequently, making the recent discovery of a black hole in the act of feeding all the more interesting to astronomers. “Black holes, like sharks, suffer from a popular misconception that they are perpetual killing machines,” said Ryan Chornock of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). “Actually, they’re quiet for most of their lives. Occasionally a star wanders too close, and that’s when a feeding frenzy begins.” Chornock and his colleagues, including team leader Suvi Gezari of Johns Hopkins University, reported their discovery of a feeding supermassive black hole in the May 3 issue of the journal Nature. If a star passes too close to a black hole, tidal forces can rip it apart. Its constituent gases then swirl in toward the black hole....
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