The Christopher Nolan epic “Interstellar” did more than just entertain millions of people in theaters around the world — it also could help enhance the understanding scientists have of black holes.
The visual-effects crew of Interstellar has published a scientific study describing the computer code they used to simulate a huge black hole called “Gargantua” and the wormhole that played critical roles in the movie, according to an NBC News report.
The study was published this week in the journal Classical and Quantum Gravity and discusses computer code that they called Double Negative Gravitational Renderer (DNGR), which allowed them to construct a scientifically accurate image of a black hole by mapping out millions of light beams and how they would interact with such a gravitational field.
The team was also able to use DNGR to understand “caustics,” which are space-time surfaces that alter the view we have of distance stars due to a black hole that is altering the flow of light.
Co-author of the study and chief scientist at Double Negative, Oliver James, said that a caustic surface causes a light beam from any point to get focused by the black hole “into a bright cusp of light at a given point,” according to the report.
The caustics wrap around the sky many times when the camera is close to a black hole, which is caused by the spin of the black hole, creating a whirling motion around the object that resembles air in a tornado and causing the caustics to stretch around the black hole.
The code was able to duplicate the effect of a glowing accretion disk around Gargantua effectively for the movie, depicting it with a great deal of clarity, according to a report by the Institute of Physics.
The traditional way to depicting a single light ray by using one pixel of computer code caused flickering as stars and nebulae moved across the screen. To get rid of this effect, James said that the team changed the code by tracing the distorted paths and shapes of light beams — a revelation that will be “of great value to astrophysicists like me,” said Kip Thorne, a co-author of the study, according to the report.
Astrophysicists are interested in the technology because the technique could be adapted for scientific research, creating smoother images of space. It could be used to conduct simulations showing how caustics influence the images of distant star fields as seen by a camera that is pointed at or near a black hole.
The DNGR simulations showed that caustics were constantly creating and destroyer stellar images, at one point identifying as many as 13 simultaneous images of the same star, which were only seen when the black hole was spinning rapidly and toward the camera, essentially “flinging” the images at the camera.