By Davide Castelvecchi
The historic first image of a black hole unveiled last year has now been turned into a movie. The short sequence of frames shows how the appearance of the black hole’s surroundings changes over years as its gravity stirs the material around it into a constant maelstrom.
The images show a lopsided blob of light swirling around the supermassive black hole at the centre of the galaxy M87. To create them, the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) collaboration — which harnesses a planet-wide network of observatories — exhumed old data on the black hole and combined these with a mathematical model based on the image released in April 2019, to show how the surroundings have evolved over eight years. Although it relies partly on guesswork, the result gives astronomers rich insights into the behaviour of black holes, the intense gravity of which sucks in matter and light around them.
“Because the flow of matter falling onto a black hole is turbulent, we can see that the ring wobbles with time,” says lead author Maciek Wielgus, a radio astronomer at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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