“When you point a telescope at a black hole, it turns out you don’t just see the swirling sizzling doughnut of doom formed by matter falling in,” reports the New York Times. “You can also see the whole universe.”
Light from an infinite array of distant stars and galaxies can wrap around the black hole like ribbons around a maypole, again and again before coming back to your eye, or your telescope. “The image of a black hole actually contains a nested series of rings,” said Michael Johnson of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, not unlike the rings that form around your bathtub drain.
Dr. Johnson was lead author of a study, describing the proposed method that would allow our telescopes to pry more secrets from the maw of any black hole, that was published in the March 18 edition of the journal Science Advances. He and other authors of the paper are also members of the team operating the Event Horizon Telescope, a globe-girding network of radio telescopes that made that first image of a black hole. Their telescope saw these rings, but it didn’t have enough resolution to distinguish them, so they were blurred into a single feature…. Andrew Strominger, a Harvard theorist and co-author of the paper, said, “Understanding the intricate details of this historic experimental observation has forced theorists like myself to think about black holes in a new way…”
As Peter Galison of Harvard, another E.H.T. collaborator said, “As we peer into these rings, we are looking at light from all over the visible universe, we are seeing farther and farther into the past, a movie, so to speak, of the history of the visible universe.”