Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2013 July 1

Orbiting a Black Hole
Image Credit & Copyright: Robert Nemiroff (MTU)

Explanation: What would it look like to orbit a black hole? Since the strong gravity of the black hole can significantly alter light paths, conditions would indeed look strange. For one thing, the entire sky would be visible, since even stars behind the black hole would have their light bent to the observer's eye. For another, the sky near the black hole would appear significantly distorted, with more and more images of the entire sky visible increasingly near the black hole. Most visually striking, perhaps, is the outermost sky image completely contained inside an easily discernible circle known as the Einstein ring. Orbiting a black hole, as shown in the above scientifically-accurate computer-created illustrative video, will show stars that pass nearly directly behind the black hole as zipping around rapidly near the Einstein ring. Although star images near the Einstein ring may appear to move faster than light, no star is actually moving that quickly. The above video is part of a sequence of videos visually exploring the space near a black hole's event horizon. (Disclosure: Video creator Robert Nemiroff is an editor for APOD.)

Tomorrow's picture: around again at the photon sphere

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Authors & editors: Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (UMCP)
NASA Official: Phillip Newman Specific rights apply.
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