(ORDO NEWS) — A NASA astrophysicist has created a visualization of the passage of one supermassive black hole against the background of another. The video, posted on NASA’s official website, shows how black holes distort and redirect light from a swirl of hot gas that forms the accretion discs surrounding each.
Astrophysicist Jeremy Schnittman of the Goddard Space Flight Center used the Discover supercomputer from NASA’s Climate Modeling Center to create the visualizations. According to the author, the calculations required to create film frames on a modern desktop computer would take about ten years.
By calculating the path traversed by light rays from the accretion disks of two supermassive black holes weighing 200 and 100 million times the mass of the Sun, Schnittman created an animation that shows how the rays “make their way” through the curved spacetime around the black holes.
Scientists speculate that there are binary black hole systems in space in which accretion disks can be sustained for millions of years, but until now it was not known what they might look like when observed.
“The animation shows how black holes distort and redirect light from the vortex of hot gas that surrounds each of them. When viewed from the plane of the orbit, the accretion disk takes on a characteristic double-humped appearance. But when one black hole passes in front of another, the object’s gravity the foreground transforms its companion into a rapidly changing sequence of arcs. Such distortions occur when light from both disks travels through the tangled fabric of spacetime near black holes, “says Jeremy Schnittman.
The video clearly demonstrates such effects as Doppler amplification, in which gas moving towards the observer appears brighter than that moving away from him, and relativistic aberration, a phenomenon due to which black holes appear smaller as they approach the viewer and larger as they move away.
These effects disappear when looking at the system from above, but new ones appear – both black holes create small images-copies of their partner, which each revolve around them in their own orbit.
“A striking aspect of this new rendering is the self-similar nature of the images produced by gravitational lensing. Zooming in on each black hole reveals many distorted images of its partner,” explains Schnittman.
Upon closer examination, it turned out that these images are views from the edge of the accretion disk. To create them, light from black holes must be redirected 90 degrees. This means that in one image, black holes can be observed from two different points of view at the same time.
The accretion discs come in different colors, blue and red, to make it easier to track light sources, but the choice of light is not random. Hotter gas emits light towards the blue end of the spectrum, and material orbiting smaller black holes experiences stronger gravitational effects, causing higher temperatures. At the same time, according to scientists, with such masses, both accretion disks will emit most of the light in the ultraviolet range.
Astronomers expect that in the near future they will be able to detect gravitational waves from the merger of two supermassive black holes in a system very similar to the one depicted by Schnittman.
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