NASA supercomputer simulators falling into black hole

NASA supercomputer simulators falling into black hole
NASA supercomputer simulators falling into black hole

NASA’s supercomputer has produced cutting-edge visualizations that allow viewers to plunge into the event horizon — the point at which a black hole’s gravitational pull becomes irresistible.

The visualizations were created by astrophysicist Jeremy Schnittman at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

“People often ask about this [what happens when we fall into a black hole]and simulating these difficult-to-imagine processes helps me connect the mathematics of relativity to actual consequences in the real universe,” said Schnittman.

“So I simulated two different scenarios, one where a camera — a stand-in for a daring astronaut — just misses the event horizon and slingshots back out, and one where it crosses the boundary, sealing its fate,” Schnittman added.

Visualization using supercomputer

Schnittman collaborated with fellow Goddard scientist Brian Powell to create this 360-degree visualization. They used the Discover supercomputer at the NASA Center for Climate Simulation.

As per the NASA release, the entire simulation process created a large data of 10 terabytes in five days. Interestingly, it used only 0.3% of Discover’s 129,000 processors, but the same work would have taken over a decade on a standard laptop.

The visualization depicts a supermassive black hole with 4.3 million times the mass of our Sun, which is roughly similar to the Milky Way’s cosmic monster.

“If you have the choice, you want to fall into a supermassive black hole. Stellar-mass black holes, which contain up to about 30 solar masses, possess much smaller event horizons and stronger tidal forces, which can rip apart approaching objects before they get to the horizon,” Schnittman explained.

A black hole’s enormous tidal pressures cause the objects to stretch out like noodles in a process known as spaghettification.

The massive event horizon

In the simulation, the black hole’s event horizon covers an area of ​​16 million miles (25 million kilometers). To put things into perspective, this is only 17% of the distance between Earth and the Sun.

An accretion disk is a flat, swirling cloud of very hot and bright gas located near the black hole. This disk acts as a visual marker for the camera as it descends into the black hole.

Another feature in the video is the luminous structures called photon rings, which may be seen closer to the black hole. These rings are produced when light orbits the black hole once or more before escaping.

The camera movement

At the beginning of the video, the camera is about 400 million miles (640 million kilometers) away. And gradually falls into the cosmic monster.

The camera takes around three hours to plummet towards the black hole’s event horizon. It completes two full 30-minute rotations around the black hole during the trip.

Once the camera crosses the event horizon and enters the black hole, it, along with the space-time in which it’s moving, begins to rush toward the center of the black hole. This movement towards the center is inevitable due to the strong gravitational pull exerted by the black hole.

At the center of the black hole lies a point known as a singularity, which is said to be a one-dimensional point. Here, the gravitational forces become infinitely strong, and the laws of physics break down as we understand them.

“Once the camera crosses the horizon, its destruction by spaghettification is just 12.8 seconds away,” Schnittman said. From the horizon to the singularity, the distance is only 79,500 miles (128,000 kilometers).

“This final leg of the voyage is over in the blink of an eye,” the NASA press release concluded.


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Mrigakshi Dixit Mrigakshi is a science journalist who enjoys writing about space exploration, biology, and technological innovations. Her professional experience encompasses both broadcast and digital media, enabling her to learn a variety of storytelling formats. Her work has been featured in well-known publications including Nature India, Supercluster, and Astronomy magazine. If you have pitches in mind, please do not hesitate to email her.



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