Something strange is going on in the NASA publicity department. The agency's latest press release marks a stark divergence in tone from the kind of content they're usually serving up.
These are the sort of announcements NASA typically makes:
NASA Deputy Administrator Garver To Visit Fairfax County School Tuesday
NASA Awards Contract for Procurement Services
March 13 NuSTAR Media Briefing Postponed
And this is the latest release from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the United States:
Wait, what? Who's writing this? Ice-T? Special Victims Unit Detective Fin Tutuola?
Street justice is bloody.
Since we're already here, let's investigate what the hell NASA was talking about:
The suspect in question is a black hole, large ("supermassive") in build, known to lurk at the center of a galaxy 2.7 billion light-years away. In Queens.
The cops at NASA have had their eyes on this creep for a while, strongly suspecting him of "shredding" stars, but unable to nail down any specifics as to whom he was targeting.
Here's how the NASA press release describes the black hole's M.O.:
These hefty monsters lay quietly until an unsuspecting victim, such as a star, wanders close enough to get ripped apart by their powerful gravitational clutches.
Again, they're having fun and playing with language in a lot of really interesting ways.
Anway, recently, a team of astronomers led by Dr. Suvi Gezari of Johns Hopkins University were able to pin a description to one such victim: it was a star, rich in helium gas.
Gezari explains that when a black hole's gravitational forces rip apart a star, some of the star's glowing gaseous remains fall into the black hole, while the rest are ejected at very high speeds. By peering through telescopes located in scenic Hawaii, astronomers were able to observe not only the shreds of the star in question falling into the black hole, but also the "spectral signature of the ejected gas," which was comprised mostly of helium.
And here is where we find the inspiration for NASA's bold headline:
"It is like we are gathering evidence from a crime scene. Because there is very little hydrogen and mostly helium in the gas, we detect from the carnage that the slaughtered star had to have been the helium-rich core of a stripped star."
Gezari goes on to blame the victim, noting that the star in question (already dying at the time of its MURDER) appeared to have tempted fate by wandering, in its cosmo-fueld elliptical orbit, too close to the black hole.
The star was also dressed like a proper slut, having surrendered the "hydrogen-filled envelope surrounding [its] core" a long time ago; probably to the same black hole, in fact.
So, yes, that star did deserve to die. It was asking for it.
Luckily, according to Gezari, those worried about the safety of good little stars in our own Milky Way—the sun, for instance—need not fret about them being swallowed up by black holes. Yet.
"We would have to wait at least 10,000 years before we would be able to see a star being gobbled by our own black hole."
That's why, for the time being, astronomers will have to get their rocks off peeping on other star homicides in distant galaxies.
In the mean time, we'll hopefully have lots of snappy NASA press releases to keep us entertained.
Space justice is bloody.