In a short period of time, astronomers took us away closer to black holes than ever unprecedented pictures cosmic giants. Now, for the first time, scientists have seen the phenomena that take place behind them. As part of the discovery, researchers witnessed and captured light from the back of a supermassive black hole 800 million light-years away.
The latest breakthrough is “a key part of the puzzle for understanding how the universe came into being,” says Stanford astrophysicist Dan Wilkins. Moreover, it seems to confirm Einstein’s theory of relativity from more than a century ago.
By studying the bright flashes of X-rays emanating from a black hole, a characteristic known as the corona, the researchers also witnessed weaker flashes of light. These were the “luminous echoes” of the rockets bouncing off the gas behind the black hole. This phenomenon was first predicted by Einstein in his theory of relativity published in 1916.
“Any light that enters that black hole doesn’t come out, so we shouldn’t be able to see anything behind the black hole,” Wilkins explained. “The reason we can see this is that this black hole distorts the space, bending the light and twisting the magnetic fields around it.”
The supermassive black hole is 10 million times more massive than our Sun and is located at the center of a nearby spiral galaxy called I Zwicky 1. An international team of scientists has witnessed echoes using XMM-Newton from the European Space Agency and NASA’s NuSTAR space telescope. Their findings were published in the journal Nature.
“The color of these flashes, the color of these echoes, as well as the time they were late after the original rocket told us it was echoes coming from the gas hidden from our view behind the black hole,” Wilkins remarked. “Some of them will shine back on the gas falling into the black hole, and that gives us a truly unique look at this material in its final moments before it gets lost in the black hole.”
All products recommended by Engadget have been selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories involve partnerships. If you purchase something through one of these links, we can earn a commission for affiliates.