First discovered back in 1974, Sagittarius A* is classified as a supermassive black hole. According to NASA, it is roughly 26,000 light years away at the center of the Milky Way galaxy. Using astrophysical models of the black hole, a team of scientists from Goethe University in Germany and Radboud University in The Netherlands was able to create images of Sagittarius A* and piece them together to build a 360-degree virtual reality experience.
“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,” said study author Jordy Davelaar. “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.”
If you are reading this on a smartphone you can view the embedded video below and use your device to turn and look around. Even better, if you have access to a VR headset or console (like Google Cardboard), you can strap that on and dive in to get the most out of the swirling light show.
Beyond being just a cool way to spend two and a half minutes, the researchers are really into the potential for the VR simulation to get more young people into astrophysics. “The visualisations that we produced have a great potential for outreach,” said Davelaar in a statement. “We used them to introduce children to the phenomenon of black holes, and they really learned something from it. This suggests 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.”
Image credit: J.Davelaar 2018 – CC BY 4.0