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Black Holes Destroying Stars in Our Vicinity

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Black Holes are Tearing Stars Apart All Around Us

Galaxy NGC3799 lies around 16 million light years from Earth. Any event observed today within that galaxy took place 16 million years ago. One such event was observed in February 2023 when a surge in brightness in the core was followed by a rapid dimming. The observations that followed revealed that the event was a star being torn apart by a supermassive black hole at the heart of the galaxy. This is not the first time such an event has been observed but it is the first to be within our galactic backyard, suggesting it may be more common than first thought.

Normal stellar mass black holes form when massive stars reach the end of their lives. The star ceases fusion in its core, the star collapses leading to a rebound visible as supernova explosions. The remains, if the star was massive enough, is a black hole. These black holes tend to be between 5 and 50 times the mass of the Sun, yet at the core of most galaxies seem to be black holes that can be up to several billion times the mass of the Sun.

Our own Milky Way hosts one such supermassive galaxy with its gravitational pull that is so immense that even light cannot escape. The presence of these colossal objects has an influence on the dynamics of the galaxy and can reshape the orbit of stars and gas clouds around them. The origin and evolution of supermassive black holes has been the subject of much debate over recent years.

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Researchers at the University of Hawaii Institute of Astronomy (IfA) have recently published a paper detailing the nearest observation of a supermassive black hole shredding a star. The team co-led by Jason Hinkle (a graduate student from the IfA) used the All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae (ASAS-SN) to observe a sharp increase in brightness followed by a fading from the heart of NGC3799.

Following on from the discovery, subsequent observations were conducted using the Asteroid Terrestrial Last Alert System (ATLAS) on Maunaloa, the Keck Observatory, and a few other ground and space-based telescopes. These events occur when a star wanders too close to a supermassive black hole. The intense gravitational pull from the black hole varies greatly with distance so the unsuspecting star is torn apart. Eventually, the star is consumed by the black hole.

Keck domes sunset
The sun sets on Mauna Kea as the twin Kecks prepare for observing. Credit: Laurie Hatch/ W. M. Keck Observatory

The change in brightness was the result of a flare released when the star was consumed. The event has been called ASASSN-23bd and was visible on all-sky cameras. It was unique in its proximity to Earth but unique for other reasons too; more energy released than previous Tidal Disruption Events (TDEs), closest discovered using visible light and a faster light curve profile than other events.

It’s not unusual to see stars being ripped apart by supermassive black holes, but the team has observed one closer than ever before. Willem Hoogendam, an IfA graduate student who co-led the study reported “This discovery holds the potential to significantly enhance our comprehension of the growth of supermassive black holes and their accretion of surrounding material.”

Source: Star ripped apart by black hole in rare discovery

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Black couple overcomes racism to rent to Chinese family, who show gratitude by paying rent.

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Decades ago, in the early 1900s, racism and discriminatory housing practices plagued the town of Coronado, barring many individuals from living in certain neighborhoods based on their race. In the midst of this oppressive era, an inspiring story of resilience and generosity unfolded between two families — the Thompsons, a Black couple, and the Dongs, a Chinese family.

Gus and Emma Thompson, who were among the few Black families to own property in Coronado before racial restrictions took hold, defied the norms of the time by renting their house to the Dong family. Lloyd Dong Sr., a Chinese immigrant, and his wife found solace in the Thompsons’ willingness to offer them a place to call home despite the racist barriers they faced.

Fast forward 85 years later, the sons of Lloyd Dong Sr., Ron Dong, and Lloyd Dong Jr., have decided to pay forward the kindness shown to their family by donating $5 million from the sale of the house they eventually owned to San Diego State University’s Black Resource Center. This generous gift will help expand scholarships for Black students and fund renovations at the center, creating a lasting impact on the community.

Exterior view of a single-story home

The Dongs’ family house in Coronado, originally the home of the Thompsons.

(Courtesy of Janice Dong)

This heartwarming tale of intergenerational gratitude highlights the resilience and spirit of unity that transcends racial boundaries. Brandon Gamble, the director of the Black Resource Center, expressed the profound impact of this donation on the community, emphasizing the importance of stories that challenge racism and foster a sense of camaraderie.

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Reflecting on the legacy of his father and the Thompsons, Ron Dong shared, “That was the big plus for our family, because it has made all the difference for us.” The intertwined histories of the Thompson and Dong families serve as a testament to the power of empathy and solidarity in the face of adversity.

Gus Thompson’s journey from slavery to becoming a respected community leader in Coronado, coupled with Emma Thompson’s advocacy for civil rights, exemplifies the resilience and determination of marginalized communities to thrive in the face of oppression.

Gus Thompson in 1947.

Gus Thompson in 1947.

(Norman Baynard Collection / San Diego History Center)

The legacy of allyship and support exemplified by the Thompsons extends to their willingness to assist Asian Americans facing similar discriminatory practices. This act of solidarity echoes the sentiment that in times of oppression, helping others regardless of race is not just a gesture but a necessity.

As the Dong family embraced their new home in Coronado, overcoming discrimination and forging their path to homeownership, they carried forward the spirit of resilience and unity shown to them by the Thompsons. The bond between these two families serves as a beacon of hope and inspiration in a society marred with division and prejudice.

The Hotel del Coronado, a Victorian-style beach resort outside San Diego, and tent city on the beach, 1908.

The Hotel del Coronado, a Victorian-style beach resort outside San Diego, and a tent city on the beach, 1908.

(Smith Collection / Gado / Getty Images)

The resilience and determination displayed by the Dong family in the face of discrimination, coupled with their unwavering commitment to education and community upliftment, exemplify the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. The decision to give back to the community through education underscores the transformative power of generosity and empathy in creating a more inclusive and equitable society.

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As the Dongs’ generous donation paves the way for future generations to access educational opportunities and resources, their story serves as a beacon of hope and inspiration for all who strive to overcome adversity and champion unity in the face of division.

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