NASA's Swift satellite has captured data and images of a distant star being caught and devoured by an awakening black hole.
The discovery came after Swift detected flares beaming X-rays towards Earth in March. The emissions were initially written off as the gamma-ray burst of a dying star. The notion that the X-rays could stem from a sun being eaten by a newly awakening black hole only developed when the emissions continued to brighten and flare.
Officially designated Swift J1644+57, the star is thought to lie in the Draco constellation. Scientists have since speculated that it may have taken the dying sun's light 3.9 billion years to reach Earth.
The discovery has already led to two studies, one led by David Burrows, professor of astronomy at Penn State University and the second by post-doctoral fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Ashley Zauderer.
According to the two studies, the black hole spotted by Swift may be up to twice the mass of the 4-million-solar-mass black hole in the center of the Milky Way galaxy.
Scientists have since suggested that the new data will grant them fresh insights into the process of how a star dies when caught by a black hole.
To date, it has been theorised that as a star gets closer to a black hole, it is gradually ripped apart by increasingly strong gravitational tides. This causes the sun's gas to be pulled away, forming disk and swirl patterns and formations around the black hole.
The two papers on the discovery have since been released in 25 Aug. issue of the journal Nature.