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See what a black hole looks like up close in NASA’s incredible new visualization

NASA released a visualization of what a black hole might look like up close, and it’s mesmerizing to see. 

The visualization simulates how a black hole’s dense gravity would distort our view, resulting in a warped image that resembles a reflection in a carnival mirror. In more scientific terms, NASA says it “simulates the appearance of a black hole where infalling matter has collected into a thin, hot structure called an accretion disk.”

Jeremy Schnittman generated the images using custom software at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. 

“Simulations and movies like these really help us visualize what Einstein meant when he said that gravity warps the fabric of space and time,” Schnittman said in a statement. “Until very recently, these visualizations were limited to our imagination and computer programs. I never thought that it would be possible to see a real black hole.”

A black hole forms when a star collapses at the end of its life. The gravitational pull that results from its collapse prevents anything — including light itself — from escaping.

Scientists are trying to learn more about the elusive and mysterious black holes that make up our universe. In April, astronomers were able to capture the first image of a black hole. The orange glow from the image captured in April resembles Schnittman’s visualization of a black hole’s accretion disk. The black hole in the April image is located in Messier 87, a galaxy 55 million light-years away. 

Closer to home is the black hole known as Sagittarius A*, which is in the center of our galaxy. This particular black hole has seen a hotbed of activity recently — emitting bright flares of energy and rapidly glowing 75 times brighter than normal for brief periods. In May, Astronomers from the University of California Los Angeles observed the flares of near-infrared wavelength light, which were the brightest ever seen.

We also now have an idea of what a black hole might sound like, thanks to physicists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Earlier this month, their findings published in Physical Review Letters reported that a “baby” black hole makes a sound like a chirp. Scientists described the sound as “a waveform that quickly crescendoed before fading away,” or, something resembling the sound of a “chirp.” 

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