Black holes are back in the “limelight” thanks to the visual effects team from the hit movie Interstellar. In what was initially a case of science informing movie design, the scientific community now has the arts to thank for a new and creative way to look at black holes.
A paper published in Classical and Quantum Gravity describes the computer code known as Double Negative Gravitational Gravity (DNGR). The code was used to help create Gargantua, the black hole featured in Interstellar. The challenge for Christopher Nolan’s team was to map out how millions of light beams travel through the warped space-time surrounding the black hole.
Traditionally, the visual representation of a black hole produced a very odd and undramatic flickering effect when viewed against the backdrop of stars and other cosmic bodies. This simply wouldn’t do for a ticket-buying audience. A new way had to be found to show a black hole without necessarily letting science slip, well, into a black hole.
“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,” said Oliver James from the special effects company Double Negative.
“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.”
The task required the attention of Caltech theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, who served on behalf of Double Negative as the film’s science consultant. One of the main problems to be solved was how to render what a camera would see if it were close up to a rapidly spinning black hole.
The first step was to deal with the caustics, surfaces in space that create more than a dozen images of individual stars comprising of the bright plane of the galaxy where the black hole resides. In effect, the black hole drags these multiple images into a whirling motion that stretches the caustic around itself several times.
In layman’s terms, Thorne’s team was able to accurately show how the light of distant stars could be captured by a camera as it passes through a black hole’s warped space-time. The code was used not only to help create the black hole, but the wormhole used in the movie to travel to distant reaches of the universe.
The Inquisitr previously reported on the possibility of a wormhole existing in the Milky Way galaxy. A recent study proved, at least theoretically, that the massive black hole at the center of the Milky Way could function as a wormhole to another galaxy.
[Image via Paramount Pictures/Warner Bros]