Let the record show: I am the first writer for Ars Technica to use the phrase “om nom nom”. Astronomers caught a supermassive black hole in the act of disrupting and devouring part of a large planet or small brown dwarf (a starlike object that isn’t massive enough for nuclear fusion). The giveaway was a burst of gamma ray light, which peaked then faded slowly over time, very different from usual black hole behavior. The results were consistent with a one-time stripping of about 10% of the material off a planet at least 14 times the mass of Jupiter, which then fell on the black hole and heated up.

In the scenario proposed in the new paper, the super-Jupiter drifted close to the supermassive black hole in NGC 4845. The gravitational attraction on the near side of the planet was stronger than on the far side, pulling it out of shape. (This is known as the tidal force, and it is responsible for the twice-daily tides on Earth.) At some point, the internal force of gravity holding the planet together was insufficient to keep the black hole from ripping about 10 percent of the mass off in one burst. [Read more…]

Black hole sez: I maded you a planet, but I eated it

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OK, I might be feeling a little cranky about this, but my article for Ars Technica is a little more measured. I’ll have a longer analysis for Galileo’s Pendulum tomorrow, for those who want it. The short version: the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS-02) is a particle detector installed on the International Space Station. For several months, the lead investigator has been hinting that AMS-02 detected the signature of dark matter annihilation: collisions between dark matter particles producing an excess of positrons. However, the actual research paper was rather short on dark matter, however interesting the AMS-02 results really were.

The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS-02) is a particle detector based on the International Space Station, designed for looking at a variety of particles from many sources, among them dark matter collisions. Recently, the AMS-02 research team announced the results of its first 18 months of data collection. These results are frustratingly ambiguous: while AMS-02 found an excess of certain type of particle expected from some models of dark matter annihilation, this excess didn’t bear the hallmarks predicted for a dark matter signature. So, something interesting is going on in the AMS-02 data, but the chances of dark matter being the cause seem a bit low. [Read more…]

Update: I published my rant over at Galileo’s Pendulum, explaining exactly why I’m grumpish about the way these results were announced and characterized in much of the media.

Much ado about nothing in today’s dark matter non-announcement