Astronomers working at the ESA's Integral Space Observatory have observed a planet about 14-to-30 times the mass of Jupiter stray just a little too close to a dormant black hole. The gas giant (or possibly a brown dwarf) managed to avoid complete annihilation, but the black hole was still able to chomp down on a good portion of its atmosphere.

Astronomers believe that free-floating planetary-mass objects like this one are actually quite common, the result of gravitational interactions that eject them from their home systems. This particular interaction, called a tidal disruption, was observed in Galaxy NGC 4845, which is about 47 million light-years away.

Marek Nikolajuk of the University of Bialystok, Poland, made the observation after (accidentally) detecting a strong and hard X-ray flare. His team had been observing another galaxy when the XMM-Newton picked up the signature. Their subsequent analysis showed that the emission came from a halo of material around the galaxy's central black hole as it bit down on the low-mass object.

More at the European Space Agency. Check out the entire study at Astronomy & Physics.