How You Can See A Black Hole!

Black holes are the most extreme phenomena known in the universe.  They are the absolute limit of what gravity and space-time can be twisted into.  It’s no surprise that some of the most massive and advanced telescopes in the world are tasked with studying their properties and how they interact with their environment.  But maybe there’s a way for you and I to see what a black hole can do, and all we need is a moderate 8 inch telescope and our eyes!

The activity of black holes can be observed as visible light during outbursts, and that flickering light emerging from gases surrounding black holes is a direct indicator of this. Credit: Eiri Ono/Kyoto University

Even though black holes generally give off tons of radiation, we need to observe them in the Gamma,  X-ray, and Radio parts of the spectrum, since the active ones are often obscured by the surrounding dust and gas that enable us to see them interact in the first place.  But new data suggests we may be able to see them with our own eyes in the visible spectrum.

“We now know that we can make observations based on optical rays — visible light, in other words — and that black holes can be observed without high-spec X-ray or gamma-ray telescopes,” explains lead author Mariko Kimura, a master’s student at Kyoto University.

Some black hole binary systems, where the black hole feeds off a companion star, occasionally go through outbursts where enormous amount of X-Rays are released as a swath of matter is swallowed up by the black hole. An outburst from binary system V404 Cygni, having been dormant for 26 years, was observed carefully by astronomers from Kyoto University.

They observed a flickering of the system in optical light that corresponded perfectly to the fluctuations observed in X-ray light.  It’s likely that the high energy X-rays are heating gas that lies further out from the central region of the black hole, heating up gas to just the right temperature to radiate in optical light.

So get your telescope out, and you can see the power of a black hole with your own eyes.

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