NASA simulation shows what it's like to fly into a black hole's point of no return

A new 'immersive visualization' will allow users to experience diving into a black hole and falling past the 'point of no return' within the phenomenon, NASA said in a press release.

The visualization, produced on a NASA supercomputer, allows users to experience the flight into a supermassive black hole. The simulation then orbits the black hole and passes the event horizon, also known as the 'point of no return'. The visualization combines the immersive graphics with details about the physics of such an event.

The visualizations, available on YouTube, can be viewed as explanation videos or if 360 degree videos allowing the viewer to place themselves at the center of the whole.

“People ask about this a lot, and simulating these hard-to-imagine processes helps me connect the math of relativity to actual consequences in the real universe,” says Jeremy Schnittman, the NASA astrophysicist who created the visualizations, in the press release. “So I simulated two different scenarios, one in which a camera – a stand-in for a daring astronaut – narrowly misses the event horizon and shoots back out, and one in which it crosses the line and seals its fate.”


360 Video: NASA simulation shows a flight around a black hole Through
NASA Goddard on
YouTube

The black hole used in the visualizations has a mass of 4.3 million times the mass of the solar system's sun. That corresponds to the black hole in our own galaxy, NASA said. The simulated black hole's event horizon is about 16 million miles wide, and viewers will see a large flat cloud of hot gas and glowing structures called photon rings. The simulated camera moves almost at the speed of light, amplifying the glow of those structures and making them appear even brighter and whiter, even as they become distorted to the viewer.

Schnittman told NASA that it was important to focus the simulation on a supermassive black hole because that would have the most impact.

“If you have a choice, you want to fall into a supermassive black hole,” Schnittman said. “Huge-mass black holes, containing up to about 30 solar masses, have much smaller event horizons and stronger tidal forces, which can tear approaching objects apart before they reach the horizon.”

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