On Wednesday, NASA released a moving visualization of a black hole's event horizon. It moves, it's impressive, and it took a lot of time and original thinking to create it. Because of its trickiness, the image is in low-resolution.
That said it's still mighty amazing.
It's believed that these types of simulations will improve in the future, as technology refines itself, but for now this is the closest moving image we have of what a black hole looks like.
Why did NASA create this?
Well, why not?
The visualization shows what a supermassive black hole would look like if it was actively accreting.
These black holes sit smack back in the middle of most galaxies. However, it's still a mystery as to how they got there, which one got there first — the black hole or the galaxy.
What is known about black holes, though, is that they are pretty large. And, we mean massive — around millions or billions of times the mass of our Sun.
Furthermore, they can control the creation of stars, and they can sometimes be the shiniest and brightest points in our Universe.
What does the visualization show?
The simulation shown below gives us an idea of how its gravity distorts our perception.
The black hole's extreme gravity changes light coming from different parts of the accretion disk — the section that is moving — which is what gives it its mesmerizing look.
These colorful and bright knots continuously form and dissipate in the disk area, as magnetic fields move around the gas around the black hole. The gas nearest to the black hole moves at the speed of light, whereas the gas further away is a bit slower. Because of these differences, the colors on the disk appear different, some darker and others lighter.
If we look closely, the left side of the disk appears brighter than the right side. The reason for this is linked to Einstein's relativity theory, that the glowing gas on the left-hand side is moving in our direction so quickly its brightness is heightened. The opposite effect happens on the right-hand side.
Jeremy Schnittman, the person who generated the impressive simulation for NASA, explained: "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 continued, "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."
We're glad for advancements in technology, so we can actually know what black holes actually look like!