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‘Scary Barbie’ A Stellar Star’s Demise Devoured by a Black Hole

‘Scary Barbie’ stands as an extraordinarily luminous celestial entity, continuously ablaze for two years and showing no signs of fading.

Astronomers have made a remarkable discovery of one of the longest-lasting, brightest, and most energetic celestial objects ever observed, and they’ve affectionately dubbed it “Scary Barbie” due to its awe-inspiring intensity.

This distant celestial phenomenon, an astonishingly brilliant burst of light persisting for over two years, was identified within a vast dataset collected by computer-guided telescopes. The data unveiled that Scary Barbie emerged from the cataclysmic final stages of a star’s disintegration, torn apart by a supermassive black hole.

Upon detecting this radiant celestial event and corroborating their findings with observations from other telescopes, the astronomers realized they had chanced upon one of the most potent cosmic explosions ever documented. They shared their discoveries on April 17 through the arXiv preprint server, with their paper scheduled for publication in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

“It’s mind-boggling. Even if you were to magnify a typical supernova a thousandfold, we still wouldn’t reach the level of brightness we’re seeing here—and supernovas are already among the most luminous objects in the sky,” commented co-author Danny Milisavljevic, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Purdue University. “This is the most energetic phenomenon I have ever encountered.”

Black holes consume hapless stars that cross their paths, harnessing the immense gravitational forces they exert. As the star is drawn nearer to the black hole’s gravitational center, the forces on the star’s near side are far more potent than those acting on its far side. This gravitational difference causes the star to stretch into an elongated, noodle-like structure that winds around the black hole, akin to spaghetti coiling around a fork.

This hot plasma “noodle” rapidly accelerates around the black hole, emitting a substantial jet of energy and matter that generates a distinctive, radiant beam of light—a transient event. This phenomenon can be observed through optical, X-ray, and radio-wave telescopes.

Due to the remote location of Scary Barbie’s light, having traveled across roughly 7.7 billion years through the expanding fabric of space-time, astronomers couldn’t directly observe the event. Instead, by employing a machine-learning system known as the “Recommender Engine For Intelligent Transient Tracking,” the researchers meticulously sifted through data from numerous observations until they identified this exceptionally bright light source. Utilizing the Lick Observatory in California and the Keck Observatory in Hawaii, the researchers were able to pinpoint the light source as originating from a transient event.

However, Scary Barbie, a moniker derived from its random alphanumeric name, ZTF20abrbeie, combined with a reference to its remarkable power, stands out even among other rare and extreme astronomical phenomena. It surpasses the brightness of any other transient event astronomers have been able to compare it to, and while transient events typically last mere weeks or months, Scary Barbie has been radiating intensely for over two years with no sign of diminishing.

The astronomers anticipate further observations of Scary Barbie, possibly with the Hubble Space Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope, which could provide high-resolution images of this extraordinarily rare cosmic event.

Milisavljevic noted, “There are few things in the universe that can wield such power and exhibit such longevity. Discoveries like this continue to remind us that we are still unraveling mysteries and exploring wonders in the universe—things that no one has witnessed before.”

Originally published on LiveScience.com.

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