NASA Visualization Shows a Black Hole's Warped World

Pablo Tucker
September 27, 2019

Known as tidal disruption events, or TDEs, these occur when a star gets too close to a supermassive black hole, like those thought to lie at the center of most large galaxies.

Fast forward to today and NASA just announced a new simulation of how a black hole might look like at the space agency's Black Hole Week.

Observing the oscillation of light as the black hole gobbles the star and spews stellar material in an outward spiral could help astronomers understand the black hole's behavior, a scientific mystery since physicist Albert Einstein examined gravity's influence on light in motion. The visualization simulates the appearance of a black hole where the infalling matter has collected into a thin, hot structure called an accretion disk.

Black hole annotation

This image highlights and explains various aspects of the black hole visualization.

Not only light, but entire galaxies can orbit black holes, and the gas closest to the centre of the black hole can spin at close to the speed of light.

"The early TESS data allow us to see light very close to the black hole, much closer than we've been able to see before", stated Patrick Vallely, co-author of the discovery published in The Astrophysical Journal. Gradually it visually transforms the lower part of the disk in the photonic ring is a bright ring of light that delineates a black hole.


NASA has announced that its Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission spotted a black hole tearing apart a star for the first time. Meanwhile, the outer portions of the disk travel slightly slower. This difference stretches and shears the bright knots, producing light and dark lanes in the disk.

The other half, he says, is that they were able to detect it early, train more telescopes on the black hole, and capture unprecedented data about the rare event.

When viewed from the side, the disk looks more illuminated on the left than on the right. "We say, 'Oh my gosh, we saw a star get torn apart by a black hole!' And at least in astronomy, cool factor is like half of what we do". One can see the left-hand side brighter than the right because it's moving toward the viewer.


A thin ring at the center, called the "photon ring", is really the underside of the accretion disk.

'Until very recently, these visualisations were limited to our imagination and computer programs. The boundary of that shadow is known as the "event horizon" or "point of no return", since beyond that, a black hole's gravitational force is strong enough to suck anything that approaches into the abyss.


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