Mysteriously bright flash is a black hole jet pointing straight toward Earth, astronomers say
A3 Tidal Disruption Graphic. Credit: Carl Knox – OzGrav, ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery, Swinburne University of Technology

Astronomers were keeping an eye on the data from the Zwicky Transient Facility, an all-sky survey, when they spotted a flash in a part of the sky where no light had been seen the night before. The flash gave off more light than a billion suns.

The team, led by researchers at NASA, Caltech, and elsewhere, posted their discovery to an astronomy newsletter, where it drew the attention of astronomer around the world. Multiple telescopes focused on the signal to gather more data across multiple wavelengths in the X-ray, ultraviolet, optical, and radio bands to see what could possibly produce such an enormous amount of light.

A likely source for the signal has been found by the MIT astronomy team. The scientists believe that the signal comes from a jet of matter streaking out from a black hole at close to the speed of light. The jet is thought to be the product of a black hole that devoured a nearby star and released a lot of energy.

Astronomers have observedidal disruption events in which a star is torn apart by a black hole The TDE discovered to date is not as bright as the one found at 2022 cmc. The source is so far away that it is halfway across the universe.

How could it be so bright in the sky? The signal from the black hole's jet may be brighter than if it were pointing somewhere else. The effect is similar to the sound of a sirens.

AT 2022 cmc is the first such event that has been observed in a long time. The first TDE discovered using an optical sky survey is this one.

More powerful telescopes will reveal more TDEs, which can shed light on how black holes grow and shape the universe.

A black hole more than halfway across the Universe spewing out matter at close to the speed of light. Credit: MIT

Matteo Lucchini is a researcher at the MIT's Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. We don't know how that feeding process works. TDE can be a good source of information for how that process happens.

The first author of Lucchini's MIT is Dheeraj "DJ" Pasham, along with other co-authors.

A feeding frenzy ensues.

The International Space Station has an X-ray telescope that can be used to look at the interior of a star.

The first three days seemed normal. The source was too bright when we looked at it with an X-ray telescope.

Extreme jets of X-ray emissions that come from the collapse of massive stars are what cause bright flashes in the sky.

The most powerful burst afterglow was 100 times more powerful than this one. It was amazing.

Mysteriously bright flash is a black hole jet pointing straight toward Earth, astronomers say
TDE Emissions. Credit: Zwicky Transient Facility/R.Hurt (Caltech/IPAC)

The team followed the signal's activity over the next few weeks by gathering observations from other telescopes. The signal's extreme brightness in the X-ray band was the most remarkable. X-ray emissions from AT 2022 cmc swung by 500 over a few weeks.

They suspected that the extreme X-ray activity was caused by an event called an "extreme accretion episode", in which a shredded star creates a huge disk of debris as it falls into a black hole.

The team found that AT 2022 cmc's X-ray luminosity was just as bright as three previous TDEs. The jets of matter pointed towards Earth. How fast must the jet be moving to generate such a bright signal? Lucchini modeled the signal's data if the event was a jet headed towards Earth.

The jet speed is close to the light's speed.

The black hole needs to be in an active phase in order to produce such a large jet.

It's likely swallowing the star at half the mass of the sun per year. Within a week of the black hole starting to feed on the star, we were able to catch this event.

Many more of these TDEs are expected in the future. We might be able to figure out how black holes launch these jets.

Nature Astronomy has more information on the Birth of a Relativistic Jet following the Disruption of a Star. The article can be found at

Journal information: Nature Astronomy