Taeho Ryu, a fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Garching, has modeled the behavior of stars as they hit black holes. In the study, eight stellar objects collided with a black hole, which has a mass a million times that of the Sun. The difference between stars destroyed by a collision and unaffected ones depends not only on their mass, but on their density.

As the stars approached the black hole, they were stretched and deformed under the influence of its gravity. Some of them completely scattered and turned into a long stream of gas – a catastrophic phenomenon known as tidal collapse. Others partially collapsed, retaining part of the mass. After colliding with a black hole, some of them returned to their previous state.

Black holes are still not fully understood. Their gravitational attraction is so great that even objects that move at the speed of light cannot leave their limits. Because of gravity, light does not travel beyond them, which is why they got their name.

When massive objects collide with each other, ripples run through the matter of the Universe – gravitational waves that are often detected by instruments.

Ryu also explored how other characteristics, such as different masses of black holes and close encounters of stars, affect tidal destruction events. The results will help astronomers estimate how often such phenomena occur in the universe. Based on the study, scientists plan to create more accurate pictures of these cosmic catastrophes.