Astronomers see the black hole story

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CITY astronomers have helped to gather the most direct evidence yet of a supermassive black hole shredding a star that wandered too close.

Supermassive black holes, weighing millions to billions times more than the sun, lurk in the centres of most galaxies.

They lie quietly until an unsuspecting victim, such as a star, wanders close enough to get ripped apart by their powerful gravitational clutches.

Astronomers have spotted these “stellar homicides” before, but this is the first time they have been able to identify the victim.

Using ground and space-based telescopes, a team of astronomers – led by the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and including researchers from Edinburgh, Durham and Belfast universities – has identified the victim as a star rich in helium gas in a galaxy 2.7 billion light-years away.