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First Virtual Reality Simulation of a Supermassive Black Hole

Image from original paper: it depicts the virtual simulation of Sag. A* for an observer placed very close to it.

Article by: Dr. Inés Urdaneta, Physicist at Resonance Science Foundation

As mentioned in a previous article, the Event Horizon Telescope is an international collaboration aiming to obtain the first real image of the event horizon (EH) of a black hole using a set of antennas scattered around the globe. EHT has been monitoring and collecting data from the supermassive Black Hole (SMBH) at the core of the Milky Way galaxy, known as Sagittarius A*, and results are expected very soon, probably 2019.

Now, for the first time, the virtual reality simulation of Sagittarius A* has been achieved by a group of scientists at Radbound University and collaborators from the Institute of theoretical Physics, in Germany, and the Mullard Space Science laboratory, at the University College London. In their article “Observing Supermassive Black Holes in virtual reality”, published last week, authors explain the methodology for the obtention of a full 360° view inside the accretion flow of the SMBH.

Placing the observer inside the flow itself opens a new window in understanding the geometrical structure and dynamical properties of such systems.

A clever combination of tools that include the virtual camera setup, black hole shadow vacuum lensing tests (with stationary and free-falling observers at different radial positions), and the best-fit models of the most recent observations on Sagittarius A*, generate a complete 360° of the EH and its surroundings. The theoretical framework called GRMHD – general relativistic magnetohydrodynamical plasma model- is used as an input for the geometry of the accretion flow onto the black hole.

Image: Movie snapshots from Scene 3. In this section of the virtual simulation, the observer now begins their journey through the accretion flow (panels with frames 5100–6150), before being advected away from the black hole via the large-scale jet (panels with frames 7200–8599). At frame 6150 the observer is at their point of closest approach to the black hole, where the incident flux is as high as ≈25L. This region is highly optically thick, completely obscuring the observer’s view of the black hole shadow. As the observer is advected further away, by frame 8599 the angular size of the black hole and the surrounding accretion flow is greatly reduced and appears almost point-like.


All geometrical, relativistic, and general-relativistic effects on the observed emission are naturally and self-consistently folded into the imaging calculation, providing a complete and physically-accurate depiction of what would really be seen from an observer’s perspective.


RSF in perspective:

The combination of visualizations tools and the data recollection antennas such as the EHT will provide realistic images of the environment surrounding the black holes, such that many theories can be tested, and new ones will probably rise. The behavior of such enigmatic entities will be further elucidated, and Haramein's hypothesis of all BH spinning could be supported.

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