Black hole

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Astronomers believe that at the heart of almost every galaxy is a supermassive black hole. Our own is known as Sagittarius A* and around it swirls the Milky Way and its hundreds of solar systems. In anticipation of the first actual photo of a black hole, an international project that involves astronomers of Radboud University, PHD astrophysics student Jordy Davelaar and their colleagues has built a virtual reality (VR) simulation of the phenomenon. The VR simulation was published in Computation Astrophysics and Cosmology earlier in November.

In an interview with Radboud University’s website, Davelaar explained what the simulation shows. He said: “In the simulation you move around the black hole at the centre of our galaxy. The light you see comes from matter that disappears into the black hole in a vortex-like way; due to the extreme conditions it becomes a plasma that starts to glow. This light is then deflected and deformed by the powerful gravity of the black hole. Some of the plasma is ejected away from the black hole in a jet stream at very high velocity. You can see the path that a particle could take in such a plasma flow; it moves continually inwards in a spiral trajectory until it is ejected in the jet stream.”

The aim of the simulation is to make “the most realistic possible representation of the direct environment of Sagittarius A*” Davelaar said. “The camera calculates at every point what the environment would look like if we were able to see radio-emissions. To do this we used models that were developed in part by Nijmegen astronomers and radio telescope observations.”

“In our coding for the simulation, we used Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. This enabled us to visualise all the effects you would experience when you move around a black hole, such as light deflection, the distortion of your field of view due to your speed. This provides the most realistic possible experience of what we think this environment is like. The simulation is unique and is even more realistic than the visualisations in the film ‘Interstellar’.”

You can view a video of the VR simulation published in Computation Astrophysics and Cosmology below: