Jackson Ryan was CNET's science editor, and a multiple award-winning one at that. Earlier, he'd been a scientist, but he realized he wasn't very happy sitting at a lab bench all day. Science writing, he realized, was the best job in the world -- it let him tell stories about space, the planet, climate change and the people working at the frontiers of human knowledge. He also owns a lot of ugly Christmas sweaters.
The first ever image of a black hole, obtained by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) collaboration, is one of the most incredible scientific achievements of the past decade. The blurry orange ring snapped from across the universe took an incredible amount of data and smarts to produce. It makes me feel infinitely small in an infinitely fascinating universe.
But I have to level with you. As awe-inspiring and terrifying as it is, it's not all that much to look at. NASA's new visualization, on the other hand, is mesmerizing.
The impressive visualization, created by Jeremy Schnittman using a custom software at
Goddard Space Flight Center, is reminiscent of Interstellar's Gargantua black hole crossed with the EHTs image and demonstrates how the galactic gravity sinks influence the spacetime surrounding them.
Black holes are extremely dense regions of space with huge gravitational pull. They're so powerful not even light can escape. Gas, dust and debris that get pulled in by their gravity swing around the hole as if trapped in an insanely fast, incredibly hot carousel. The carousel, a bright halo of matter known as the accretion disk, is the visible portion of a black hole. Depending on what angle we see it from, our image can be dramatically skewed.
NASA's visualization has us seeing the disk edge-on, so the light at the top of the image is actually from behind the black hole. Viewing the cosmic beast at this angle, we also see matter is much brighter on the left-hand side than the right because it's moving toward us, the viewer. A cosmic phenomenon known as "Doppler beaming" increases the level of brightness for light moving in such a way, and the opposite is true as it moves away from us.