No Place is Safe: The Perils of Interstellar Crime

Computer-Simulated image of a black hole flare

So there I was, just wandering around minding my own business when all of a sudden this enormous, dark . . . thing . . . comes out of nowhere. I’m telling you it was massive—no, supermassive. Next thing I knew, I was being ripped to shreds. Thing just chewed me up and spit me out . . . 2.7 billion light-years away from earth this happened. . . . I tell ya, no place is safe anymore.

Why limit yourself to terrestrial crime, when there’s a whole universe of murder and mayhem to explore?

A team of astronomers from The Johns Hopkins University, NASA’s Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, and other astronomic research institutions reported an interstellar crime last week. A supermassive black hole, lying in wait like a vast outer space mugger, literally killed a star, gobbled up some of its remains, and spewed the rest back out into space.

Investigators believe the victim might have met its assailant before. It’s likely that the star was robbed of its hydrogen-filled envelope during a previous encounter with the black hole. This time around, the black hole attacked the star’s helium core effectively ending its life.

“It is like we are gathering evidence from a crime scene,” says astronomer Suvi Gezari, who led the Hopkins team. “Because there is very little hydrogen and mostly helium in the gas we detect, we know from the carnage that the slaughtered star had to have been the helium-rich core of a stripped star.”

Take that C.S.I.!

Leslie Gilbert Elman is the author of Weird But True: 200 Astounding, Outrageous, and Totally Off the Wall Facts. Follow her on Twitter @leslieelman.

Read all of Leslie Gilbert Elman’s posts for Criminal Element.


  1. Deborah Lacy

    It takes a special kind of detective to go after a black hole…

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