"Black Hole Messier 87" by Event Horizon Telescope / CC BY 3.0

Black hole bends light back on itself

Apr 9, 2020

By Whitney Clavin

You may have heard that nothing escapes the gravitational grasp of a black hole, not even light. This is true in the immediate vicinity of a black hole, but a bit farther out—in disks of material that swirl around some black holes—light can escape. In fact, this is the reason actively growing black holes shine with brilliant X-rays.

Now, a new study accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal offers evidence that, in fact, not all of the light streaming from a black hole’s surrounding disk easily escapes. Some of it gives in to the monstrous pull of the black hole, turns back, and then ultimately bounces off the disk and escapes.

“We observed light coming from very close to the black hole that is trying to escape, but instead is pulled right back by the black hole like a boomerang,” says Riley Connors, lead author of the new study and a postdoctoral scholar at Caltech. “This is something that was predicted in the 1970s, but hadn’t been shown until now.”

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