- The new simulation shows how gravity distorts light around the black hole.
- This is the most accurate computer-generation visualization of a black hole to date.
- It clearly shows all crucial components of a black hole, including accretion disk and photon ring.
In April 2019, researchers revealed the first-ever image of a black hole. Perhaps it is the greatest achievements in science. It’s a supermassive black hole located 55 million light-years from Earth. The details of this breakthrough were published in a series of six paper.
The image is quite blurry but one day astronomers will have high-quality video footage of a real black hole. Until then, NASA has revealed a beautiful simulation showing how a black hole would actually look like in all its glory.
This is the most accurate computer simulation to date, illustrating how gravity distorts light around the black hole where infalling materials have accumulated into a hot structure known as acceleration disk. The intense gravitational pull skews light coming from various regions of the disk, generating a deformed appearance.
Different Aspects of the Black Hole Visualization
1. Accretion Disk
An accretion disk is formed near a black hole when materials and gases that come near it are snatched into the grasp of the hole. The gravitational and friction forces compress and increase the temperature of the matter, which results in the emission of electromagnetic radiation.
Bright knots continuously form and disappear in the accretion disk as the spiraling matter goes in. Nearest the event horizon, the matter orbits at extremely fast rates (as fast as the speed of the light) while the matter in outer regions rotates a bit slowly. Due to this difference, bright knots get stretched and sheared, generating dark and light lanes in the disk.
The turbulent gas disk churning around a black hole | NASA
2. Doppler Beaming
The accretion disk looks less bright on the right side than it does on the left. Light from glowing gas in the disk is brighter on the side where the matter is moving towards us, while it is fainter on the side where the matter is moving away from us (due to effects of Einstein’s relativity).
If you observe the disk exactly face on, you won’t be able to notice this asymmetry. From that perspective, no matter would be moving along your line of sight.
3. Photon Ring
The intense gravity of the black hole bends light to such an extent that we can see a bright ring of light (underside of the accretion disk). This ring is made of multiple distorted images of the disk.
The light making up these images has orbited the black hole several times before escaping to us. As rings get closer to the black hole, they become thinner and fainter.
Since the computer-generated black hole model is spherical, the photon ring appears identical (circular) from all perspectives.
Different components of a black hole
4. Black Hole Shadow
The black hole shadow is the area inside the photon ring. It is twice as big as the event horizon – a boundary beyond which no light can escape. The area is formed by its gravitational lensing and capture of light rays.
These types of simulations help up better understand how gravity wraps the fabric of spacetime and what actually happens near a black hole.