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'Interstellar" Technology Sheds Light on Real Life Black Holes

Feb 13, 2015 03:07 PM EST
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(Photo : Classical and Quantum Gravity, 2015, reproduced by permission of IOP Publishing)

New technology involved in creating Christopher Nolan's epic Interstellar is shedding light on the powerful effects of real life black holes and paving the way for astrophysics research, a new study explains.

The Oscar-nominated visual effects team describes in the journal Classical and Quantum Gravity the innovative computer code called Double Negative Gravitational Renderer (DNGR) that was used to generate the movie's iconic images.

Using their code, the Interstellar team actually found that when a camera is close up to a rapidly spinning black hole, peculiar surfaces in space - called caustics - create more than a dozen images of individual stars and of the thin, bright plane of the galaxy in which the black hole lives. They found that the images are concentrated along one edge of the black hole's shadow.

So what exactly causes these multiple images? The black hole is dragging space into a whirling motion and stretching the caustics around itself many times. This phenomenon is effectively captured on the silver screen for the first time, giving viewers an idea of what it would be like to really orbit a black hole.

To create the unprecedented smoothness and clarity of Interstellar's images, including the worm hole, black hole Gargantua and other celestial objects, the team took a different approach. Normally people use just one light ray for one pixel in a computer code, but that causes the stars and nebulae to flicker as they move across the screen.

"To get rid of the flickering and produce realistically smooth pictures for the movie, we changed our code in a manner that has never been done before. Instead of tracing the paths of individual light rays using Einstein's equations - one per pixel - we traced the distorted paths and shapes of light beams," study co-author Oliver James, with the visual effects company Double Negative that helped produce the movie's images, said in a press release.

While this technique led to the realistically smooth images that made Interstellar buzzworthy, it also can help astrophysicists when studying various phenomena in space.

"Once our code, called DNGR for Double Negative Gravitational Renderer, was mature and creating the images you see in the movie Interstellar, we realized we had a tool that could easily be adapted for scientific research," James said.

This includes being able to shed light on the Universe and the black holes found within it. Already, the scientists are using DNGR to carry out a number of research simulations exploring the influence of caustics on the images of distant star fields.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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