From Niels Bohr Institute [Niels Bohr Institutet] (DK): “Danish Student solves how the Universe is reflected near black holes”

Niels Bohr Institute bloc

From Niels Bohr Institute [Niels Bohr Institutet] (DK)

at

University of Copenhagen [Københavns Universitet] [UCPH] (DK)

12 July 2021

Albert Sneppen
asneppen@gmail.com
+45 2897 6434

Astrophysics:In the vicinity of black holes space is so warped that even light rays may curve around them several times. This phenomenon may enable us to see multiple versions of the same thing. While this has been known for decades, only now do we have an exact, mathematical expression, thanks to Albert Sneppen, student at the Niels Bohr Institute. The result, which even is more useful in realistic black holes, has just been published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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A disk of glowing gas swirls into the black hole “Gargantua” from the movie Interstellar. Because space curves around the black hole, it is possible to look round its far side and see the part of the gas disk that would otherwise be hidden by the hole. Our understanding of this mechanism has now been increased by Danish master’s student at NBI, Albert Sneppen (credit: interstellar.wiki/CC BY-NC License).

You have probably heard of black holes — the marvelous lumps of gravity from which not even light can escape. You may also have heard that space itself and even time behave oddly near black holes; space is warped.

In the vicinity of a black hole, space curves so much that light rays are deflected, and very nearby light can be deflected so much that it travels several times around the black hole. Hence, when we observe a distant background galaxy (or some other celestial body), we may be lucky to see the same image of the galaxy multiple times, albeit more and more distorted.

Galaxies in multiple versions

The mechanism is shown on the figure below: A distant galaxy shines in all directions — some of its light comes close to the black hole and is lightly deflected; some light comes even closer and circumvolves the hole a single time before escaping down to us, and so on. Looking near the black hole, we see more and more versions of the same galaxy, the closer to the edge of the hole we are looking.

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Light circling black hole side
Light from the background galaxy circles a black hole an increasing number of times, the closer it passes the hole, and we therefore see the same galaxy in several directions. Credit: Peter Laursen.

How much closer to the black hole do you have to look from one image to see the next image? The result has been known for over 40 years, and is some 500 times (for the math aficionados, it is more accurately the “exponential function of two pi”, written e^2π).

Calculating this is so complicated that, until recently, we had not yet developed a mathematical and physical intuition as to why it happens to be this exact factor. But using some clever, mathematical tricks, master’s student Albert Sneppen from the Cosmic Dawn Center — a basic research center under both the Niels Bohr Institute and DTU Space — has now succeeded in proving why.

“There is something fantastically beautiful in now understanding why the images repeat themselves in such an elegant way. On top of that, it provides new opportunities to test our understanding of gravity and black holes,” Albert Sneppen clarifies.

Proving something mathematically is not only satisfying in itself; indeed, it brings us closer to an understanding of this marvelous phenomenon. The factor “500” follows directly from how black holes and gravity work, so the repetitions of the images now become a way to examine and test gravity.

Spinning black holes

As a completely new feature, Sneppen’s method can also be generalized to apply not only to “trivial” black holes, but also to black holes that rotate. Which, in fact, they all do.

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The situation seen “face-on”, i.e. how we would actually observe it from Earth. The extra images of the galaxy become increasingly squeezed and distorted, the closer we look at the black hole. Credit: Peter Laursen.

It turns out that when the it rotates really fast, you no longer have to get closer to the black hole by a factor 500, but significantly less. In fact, each image is now only 50, or 5, or even down to just 2 times closer to the edge of the black hole”, explains Albert Sneppen.

Having to look 500 times closer to the black hole for each new image, means that the images are quickly “squeezed” into one annular image, as seen in the figure on the right. In practice, the many images will be difficult to observe. But when black holes rotate, there is more room for the “extra” images, so we can hope to confirm the theory observationally in a not-too-distant future. In this way, we can learn about not just black holes, but also the galaxies behind them:

The travel time of the light increases, the more times it has to go around the black hole, so the images become increasingly “delayed”. If, for example, a star explodes as a supernova in a background galaxy, one would be able to see this explosion again and again.

See the full article here .


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Niels Bohr Institute Campus

Niels Bohr Institutet (DK) is a research institute of the Københavns Universitet [UCPH] (DK). The research of the institute spans astronomy, geophysics, nanotechnology, particle physics, quantum mechanics and biophysics.

The Institute was founded in 1921, as the Institute for Theoretical Physics of the Københavns Universitet [UCPH] (DK), by the Danish theoretical physicist Niels Bohr, who had been on the staff of the University of Copenhagen since 1914, and who had been lobbying for its creation since his appointment as professor in 1916. On the 80th anniversary of Niels Bohr’s birth – October 7, 1965 – the Institute officially became The Niels Bohr Institutet (DK). Much of its original funding came from the charitable foundation of the Carlsberg brewery, and later from the Rockefeller Foundation.

During the 1920s, and 1930s, the Institute was the center of the developing disciplines of atomic physics and quantum physics. Physicists from across Europe (and sometimes further abroad) often visited the Institute to confer with Bohr on new theories and discoveries. The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics is named after work done at the Institute during this time.

On January 1, 1993 the institute was fused with the Astronomic Observatory, the Ørsted Laboratory and the Geophysical Institute. The new resulting institute retained the name Niels Bohr Institutet (DK)).

Københavns Universitet (UCPH) (DK) is the oldest university and research institution in Denmark. Founded in 1479 as a studium generale, it is the second oldest institution for higher education in Scandinavia after Uppsala University (1477). The university has 23,473 undergraduate students, 17,398 postgraduate students, 2,968 doctoral students and over 9,000 employees. The university has four campuses located in and around Copenhagen, with the headquarters located in central Copenhagen. Most courses are taught in Danish; however, many courses are also offered in English and a few in German. The university has several thousands of foreign students, about half of whom come from Nordic countries.

The university is a member of the International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU), along with University of Cambridge (UK), Yale University (US), The Australian National University (AU), and University of California-Berkeley (US), amongst others. The 2016 Academic Ranking of World Universities ranks the University of Copenhagen as the best university in Scandinavia and 30th in the world, the 2016-2017 Times Higher Education World University Rankings as 120th in the world, and the 2016-2017 QS World University Rankings as 68th in the world. The university has had 9 alumni become Nobel laureates and has produced one Turing Award recipient.