These black holes, which are millions of times the mass of the Sun, are shrouded in bright, hot, flaring gas called an accretion disk. In the new animation, you can see that black holes distort and redirect light coming from each other. When one black hole passes in front of another, its gravity bends the light, creating a series of tangled arcs of glowing gas.
“This is the first time we see two supermassive black holes with masses of about 200 million solar masses,” said Jeremy Schnittman, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “These are the kinds of binary systems in which we think they both can interact with each other for millions of years.”
The team created new visualizations using the software at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center to calculate how light from accretion disks travels around black holes.
In NASA’s animation, the accretion disks of black holes are colored differently because they have a difference in temperature. This makes it easier to keep track of the lights as they rotate around each other. The results of the study showed that the smaller black hole experiences a stronger gravitational effect, which produces higher temperatures, heating the gas in its accretion disk. In turn, hotter gas emits light closer to the blue side of the spectrum.
What’s more, gravitational lensing creates rings of light around each black hole. As two black holes orbit side by side, strong gravitational forces and effects of relativity distort the light from these objects.