NASA’s satellite made a historical discovery after spotting its first tidal disruption, an event where a black hole rips apart a star. According to the agency’s scientists, the star destroyed by the black hole could be as big as the Sun.

The spectacular cosmic event spotted by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). As its name suggests, TESS primarily hunts exoplanets or those that are similar to Earth. But recently, the satellite was able to detect light emitted by a black hole.

Upon tracing the source of the light, NASA discovered that it came from a tidal disruption event, which has been named as ASASSN-19bt. According to the agency, the event was caused by a supermassive black hole that’s about 6 million times more massive than the Sun. Observations on the cosmic object revealed that it is located in the Volans constellation about 375 million light-years away.

NASA noted that a star about as big as the Sun may have gotten too close to the supermassive black hole. Due to the cosmic object’s strong gravitational forces, the star got ripped into shreds and devoured.

According to the agency, tidal disruptions such as ASASSN-19bt are very rare, with one occurring only every 10,000 to 100,000 years. Due to the event’s rarity, NASA is very pleased with TESS’ latest discovery as it demonstrates that the satellite is truly capable of.

“For TESS to observe ASASSN-19bt so early in its tenure, and in the continuous viewing zone where we could watch it for so long, is really quite extraordinary,” TESS project scientist Padi Boyd of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland said in a statement.

“Future collaborations with observatories around the world and in orbit will help us learn even more about the different outbursts that light up the cosmos,” she added.

NASA’s scientists also noted that TESS’ latest finding can provide more information about tidal disruptions as to why they produce more UV emissions than X-rays.

“People have suggested multiple theories — perhaps the light bounces through the newly created debris and loses energy, or maybe the disk forms further from the black hole than we originally thought and the light isn’t so affected by the object’s extreme gravity,” S. Bradley Cenko of NASA said. “More early-time observations of these events may help us answer some of these lingering questions.”

Tidal Disruption
For the first time, NASA’s planet-hunting Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) watched a black hole tear apart a star in a cataclysmic phenomenon called a tidal disruption event. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center