Earlier this year, space scientists released the first-ever image of a black hole located at the heart of Messier 87 (M87), taken with the help of the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) project. While the image in itself is one of the biggest achievement of mankind in recent times, the image also seems to be slightly blurred and low resolution. It does not explain much about the black hole.
However, NASA has now released a new and stunning visualisation of a black hole which illustrates how the gravity of the giant celestial structure distorts our view, twisting its nearby surroundings. The visualisation has been created by Jeremy Schnittman with the help of custom software at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
In a statement, NASA has explained that the new visualisation simulates the appearance of a black hole where the infalling matter gets collected into a thin, hot structure called an accretion disk. The extreme gravity of the black hole changes the direction of light that is emitted by different regions of the disk, thereby producing the misshapen appearance.
The disc looks brighter on the left side than it does on the right. The glowing gas on the left side of the disk moves so fast that the effects of Einstein’s relativity theory give it a boost in terms of brightness. On the right side, however, the opposite happens where the glowing gas becomes slightly dimmer.
The gravitational light-bending near the black hole becomes so excessive that the underside of the disk looks like a ring of light outlining the black hole. This “photon ring” is composed of multiple rings that grows thinner from the light which has circled the black hole two, three, or even more times before it escapes to reach our eyes.
The photon ring in the new visualisation looks nearly circular and identical from any of the viewing angle. Inside the ring, there is the shadow of the black hole, which is an area approximately twice the size of the event horizon.
“Simulations and movies like these really help us visualize what Einstein meant when he said that gravity warps the fabric of space and time,” Schnittman explained in the statement. “Until very recently, these visualizations were limited to our imagination and computer programs. I never thought that it would be possible to see a real black hole,” he added.