See NASA’s Black Hole Visualizations for Black Hole Week

We’re nearing the end of Black Hole Week, NASA’s celebration of the beastly cosmic monsters that suck in light, matter, and anything else that gets too close to them. But just because they eat light doesn’t mean black holes are impossible to imagine. As part of the festivities, the media department at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center shared a selection of some of the best visualizations of black holes so you can get an idea of ​​what these mind-blowing phenomena look like.

Also available as desktop and mobile wallpapers, if you’d like to decorate your devices with images of a black hole, the images show simulations and visualizations created to try to imagine the strange effects of extreme gravity around would be a black hole. They include a simulation of a binary system made up of two interacting black holes:

These two black holes are only 40 orbits away from merging in this simulation of the light emitted from their surroundings as they dance.
These two black holes are only 40 orbits away from merging in this simulation of the light emitted from their surroundings as they dance. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

A visualization of a similar binary black hole:

This image shows the distorted image of a larger supermassive black hole (red) as it passes almost directly behind a companion black hole (blue) with half its mass.  The gravity of the black hole in the foreground transforms its partner into a surreal collection of arcs.
This image shows the distorted image of a larger supermassive black hole (red) as it passes almost directly behind a companion black hole (blue) with half its mass. The gravity of the black hole in the foreground transforms its partner into a surreal collection of arcs. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Jeremy Schnittman and Brian P. Powell

An illustration of the disk of matter swirling around a black hole called the accretion disk, which will eventually be sucked into the black hole once it crosses the event horizon, as well as an incredibly hot region called the corona that makes X-rays flow into space :

A black hole is pulling material from a neighboring star and into an accretion disk in this illustration of a black hole called MAXI J1820+070.  Above the disk is an area of ​​superhot subatomic particles called the corona.
A black hole is pulling material from a neighboring star and into an accretion disk in this illustration of a black hole called MAXI J1820+070. Above the disk is an area of ​​superhot subatomic particles called the corona. Aurore Simonnet and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

A composite image of our galaxy’s bustling center, where objects dance around the supermassive black hole at the heart of the Milky Way:

The central part of our galaxy, the Milky Way, contains an exotic collection of objects, including a supermassive black hole weighing about 4 million times the mass of the sun, gas clouds of millions of degrees, neutron stars and white dwarf stars ripping material from companion stars and beautiful tendrils of radio radiation.  This new composite image shows Chandra data (green and blue) combined with radio data (red) from the MeerKAT telescope in South Africa.
The central part of our galaxy, the Milky Way, contains an exotic collection of objects, including a supermassive black hole weighing about 4 million times the mass of the sun, gas clouds of millions of degrees, neutron stars and white dwarf stars ripping material from companion stars and beautiful tendrils of radio radiation. This new composite image shows Chandra data (green and blue) combined with radio data (red) from the MeerKAT telescope in South Africa. X-ray: NASA/CXC/UMass/D. Wang et al.; Radio: NRF/SARAO/MeerKAT

And a Hubble visible light image showing the huge energy beams given off by the supermassive black hole in a galaxy called Hercules A:

Spectacular jets powered by the gravity of a supermassive black hole at the core of the elliptical galaxy Hercules A, as imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope's Wide Field Camera 3 and the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) radio telescope in New Mexico .
Spectacular jets powered by the gravity of a supermassive black hole at the core of the elliptical galaxy Hercules A, as imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3 and the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) radio telescope in New Mexico . NASA, ESA, S. Baum and C. O’Dea (RIT), R. Perley and W. Cotton (NRAO/AUI/NSF), and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

For a long time it was thought that black holes were impossible to image because of their light-consuming properties. But the Event Horizon Telescope project made history in 2019 when they captured the first-ever image of a black hole. They were able to use radio telescopes from all over the world to collect signals together from the very edge of an event horizon, the boundary around the black hole from which nothing can escape. They imaged an absolutely massive black hole at the heart of the Messier 87 galaxy, 55 million light-years away.

Now the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) team is gearing up for another big announcement. This week, May 12, the EHT team will present “groundbreaking” results related to a finding in the Milky Way, according to the European Southern Observatory. So keep an eye out for the black hole news this week, as there could be a photo of the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, called Sagittarius A*, on the way.

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