An immersive visualization to dive into a supermassive black hole – rts.ch

An immersive visualization to dive into a supermassive black hole – rts.ch
An immersive visualization to dive into a supermassive black hole – rts.ch

Einstein’s theory of general relativity predicts that it is impossible to emerge from a black hole, even for light. Thanks to a powerful computer, NASA offers a simulation that takes us around and then dives inside one of these cosmic monsters.

Once the event horizon has been crossed, a return to the past is unthinkable: even light – which reaches the fastest speed in the Universe, around 300,000 kilometers per second – cannot escape from a black hole. . These intriguing cosmic objects were formed from the cores of massive dead stars that collapsed under the influence of their own gravity: the matter is so compressed in such a dense environment that physics cannot describe it for ‘hour.

The American Space Agency carried out its simulations using Discovera supercomputer located at Center for Climate Simulation from NASA. An immersive 360-degree version approaches one of these supermassive cosmic objects, falls towards it, briefly orbits the spherical limit that is the event horizon, then escapes to escape a fatal fate.

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Astrophysicist Jeremy Schnittman, of NASA’s Goddard Center for Space Flight, who led this visualization, imagines an astronaut piloting a spacecraft for this six-hour round trip: she would return from this trip 36 minutes younger than her colleagues who would have remained on a mothership far from the black hole. Indeed, time passes more slowly near a strong gravitational Source and when we move at a speed close to that of light.

“This situation could be even more extreme,” he says: “If the black hole was rotating rapidly, like the one shown in the film Interstellarshe would return several years younger than her comrades.

Light aberration

The scientific popularizer Alessandro Roussel has already presented on ScienceClichis YouTube channel, what a person might see if they fell into what he calls “a bubble of space-time that has intense gravity.”

Moving towards the abyss, the light rays, contracted forward, behave differently: this is the phenomenon of light aberration.

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In the other video proposed by NASA, the daring astronaut – safely behind his computer – can this time dive directly into the black hole by crossing an event horizon which extends over approximately 25 million kilometers, or approximately 17% of the Earth-Sun distance, precise the Agency. Initially, we are 640 million kilometers from the black hole: in real time, it takes our camera three hours to fall towards the event horizon, almost completing two thirty-minute orbits.

As a visual reference, space-time travelers have a flat, swirling cloud of hot, glowing gases in front of their rocket. This is the accretion disk that surrounds the black hole. A little further in this fall of no return, rings of complex and stratified photons: they are formed closer to the black hole, from the light which has circled around it one or more times before escaping. Each band is a distorted image of the gaseous disk interspersed with the stars in the background. In the distance, the starry sky that can be contemplated from our Earth shrinks and then disappears.

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That’s it, the event horizon has been crossed: 12.8 seconds later, the camera is destroyed by spaghettification 128,000 kilometers from the singularity – this small point where all matter is concentrated – which it reaches a few microseconds later.

The gravitational pull exerted on the end of an object close to the black hole is much stronger than that exerted on the other end: objects entering the black hole stretch like spaghetti and their atoms fall apart.

>> To go further: What Happens If You Jump Into A Black Hole?a PBS Space Time video (in English)

Ode to imagination

As for what one might see when actually entering one of these strange cosmic objects, it’s hard to know. All that remains is the unbridled imagination.

Christopher Nolan, notably, tackled this great enigma of astrophysics in 2014 in the film Interstellar when his hero, Cooper, ejects from his ship to avoid reaching the singularity of the black hole in which he enters. pushes, is projected into a tesseract, a four-dimensional hypercube.

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A poetic vision serving the film’s narrative, Cooper is not spaghettified, but can navigate between the past and present using gravity to send important information to his daughter Murphy.

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In Interstellar, Gargantua, the black hole at the center of the storyline, was modeled with the help of Kip Thornea renowned theorist who received the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics.

>> Read: The Nobel Prize in Physics crowns the study of gravitational waves

Real equations for a cinematographic rendering as close as possible to reality… a reality made even more concrete in 2019 when the collaboration ofEvent Horizon Telescope delivered the first direct images in history of the glowing shadow of a black hole, proving the mathematics arising from Einstein’s relativity. Reality meets fiction.

>> Read: Humanity sees a black hole with its own eyes for the first time in history

Stéphanie Jaquet

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