Black holes are still a source of wonder and mystery for most people. What are they, in fact? A crease in space and time? A portal to another part of the Universe? Or just a constant destroyer of every bit of matter they encounter? Scientists have tried for decades to explain black holes to the general public. Now they decided to do the next best thing: show them a black hole with a virtual reality simulation.
Sagittarius A* – The Star of the Virtual Reality Experience
Black holes may be eating up stars. But, Sagittarius A* has become a star – at least, in a virtual reality experience. A joint team of researchers from Radboud University in the Netherlands and Goethe University in Germany, picked this black hole as the subject of the 360-degree video.
Sagittarius A* is situated at the center of our galaxy. Scientists have been documenting it for some time and have created a complete model of its size, shape and characteristics. The Dutch and German researchers used this information to create an immersive experience of getting closer to the black hole. And then – going inside it.
A Unique Experience, Both for Scientists and the General Public
By their nature, black holes are nearly impossible to explore. Their force of gravity is so strong that they can suck in particles of light (photons). Any material object in its sphere of action will become physically extinct as soon as it enters the event horizon (the boundary of the black hole).
Distant observations using powerful telescopes and various probes allowed scientists to develop a complete model of Sagittarius A*. It is a supermassive black hole, with a radius of 6,645 x 1011 cm and a mass that equals 4 million Suns. It is a fascinating object of study for scientists and a source of awe for the general public.
According to one of the scientists that created the VR simulation, Jordy Davelaar, this breakthrough will give researchers a useful tool for studying black holes. “Our virtual reality simulation creates one of the most realistic views of the direct surroundings of the black hole and will help us to learn more about how black holes behave. Traveling to a black hole in our lifetime is impossible, so immersive visualizations like this can help us understand more about these systems from where we are,” he explains.
An Immersive Experience Like No Other
The virtual reality experience featuring Sagittarius A* consists of 8,600 frames with a video resolution of 2000 x 1000 pixels. The research team considered that this resolution is high enough to offer incredibly detailed images on the most popular models of VR headsets.
The VR experience starts with a slow approach of the black hole. This gives the viewer the sensation of traveling in a spaceship towards it. You can observe the event horizon as well as particles of light and matter being sucked into the black hole.
Virtual Reality – The Ideal Medium to Teach Science
Davelaar believes that the virtual reality experience is the right step towards a new method of teaching science. He thinks that “immersive virtual reality visualizations are a great tool to show our work to a broader audience, even when it involves very complicated systems like black holes.”
Along with augmented reality, virtual reality can be one of the best tools for education. It makes abstract concepts easier to understand. It also helps students experience events and phenomena which would be very difficult or downright impossible in the real life.
For now, we encourage you to put on your VR headset and discover Sagittarius A* in this highly detailed virtual reality experience: