Scientists detect light behind a black hole for the first time, proving Einstein's Theory

Scientists detect light behind a black hole for the first time, proving Einstein's Theory
Black holes are often gigantic, enigmatic, invisible and possess extremely strong gravitational pull, making them the most sought-after mysteries of space. Even a tiny observation or clue about them creates a huge buzz! Considered the hardest to study, these cosmic monsters have come under intense scientific scrutiny in recent decades.

In 2017, astronomers took a giant leap by capturing the first-ever image of the darkest object in space as well as the presence of magnetic fields around them. And now, after relentless pursuit, they have crossed yet another milestone!

In a significant first, scientists have detected light behind a black hole, which is usually covered by its shadow. What’s more? The remarkable findings have once again proved yet another part of Albert Einstein’s theory that had no actual evidence so far.


The source of light—corona

In what can be called a serendipitous discovery, scientists from Stanford University in California had started this research to study one of the mysterious features of the black holes known as the corona. But, before we jump to what exactly this feature is, first, let’s understand the black hole better.

The black hole has three layers. First, the event horizon—the most popular feature—forms the boundary of a black hole beyond which nothing can escape the fate of the universe's darkest forces. Second, the accretion disk—an incredibly hot disk—where the matter gets collected before finally being swallowed by the cosmic monster.

The third is the corona located just outside the event horizon. The name has been derived from the Sun’s corona as it showcases similar properties and heats up to millions of degrees. This extremely hot region consists of superheated particles fueled by the powerful magnetic field of black holes. It has been hypothesised that some corona hones power to spew out powerful x-ray flares.

"This magnetic field getting tied up and then snapping close to the black hole heats everything around it and produces these high energy electrons that then go on to produce the X-rays," said Dan Wilkins, astrophysicist.

And yes, that’s what the scientists noticed—flares occurring from a not-so-expected place around a black hole that is 800 million light-years away from Earth, in a galaxy known as I Zwicky 1 or I Zw 1.

Proving Einstein right, again

Einstein’s general theory of relativity predicted that the light must bend and reflect due to the strong gravitational pull around a black hole. Voila! The team found direct evidence of reflected light from around this supermassive black. The observations were in line with the theory’s suggestions on how exactly light should behave around an environment of extreme gravity.

At first, astronomers stumbled upon a series of bright x-rays flares from this supermassive black hole during their observations using NuSTAR and XMM-Newton telescopes. Surprisingly, they also detected flashes of smaller and brighter X-rays originating from a strange place, i.e., behind the black hole.

Eventually, the team determined that these are the same X-ray flares but are reflected from the back of the disk. The smaller luminescence flares occurred like an echo in a fraction of seconds and sometimes dimmer.

"Any light that goes into that black hole doesn't come out, so we shouldn't be able to see anything that's behind the black hole. The reason we can see is that black hole is warping space, bending light and twisting magnetic fields around itself," explains Dan Wilkins.

This study has taken our understanding of black holes and the processes around them to a whole new level. More importantly, the results provide empirical evidence to a century-old theory.

The results of this study have been published in the journal Nature this week and can be accessed here.

( The story was published on 'The Weather Channel' )

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