Something to look forward to: An international team of astronomers observed the light behind a black hole for the first time. Future observatories, such as the Advanced Telescope for High Energy Astrophysics (Athena), are expected to provide even higher resolution images with much shorter observation times.1
Led by Dan Wilkins of Stanford University, the team focused on a black hole 10 million times larger than our sun and located 1,800 million light years away in a galaxy called I Zwicky.
Armed with the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton space telescopes and NASA’s NuSTAR, astronomers observed bright flares of X-rays from the black hole. X-ray flares resonated with gas falling into the black hole, and as flares faded, telescopes were remarkably able to pick up smaller flashes of x-rays that were of different “colors.” These are the echoes that bounce off the gas behind the black hole. “No light entering this black hole comes out of it, so we shouldn’t be able to see anything behind the black hole,” Wilkins said. “The reason we can see this is because this black hole distorts space, bends light and twists the magnetic fields around it,” he added.
The gravitational pull of the black hole is responsible for the deformation of space.
This is the first time that astronomers have observed light directly behind a black hole, and it also matches Einstein’s general theory of relativity, once again confirming his predictions.
The team’s results were recently published in the scientific journal Nature.
Image credit Dan Wilkins