Astronomers have shown the violent flaring at the centre of a black hole using state-of-the-art cameras.
They used the technology to create a high-frame rate movie of a growing black hole system at a level of detail never seen before.
Led by the University of Southampton, they also uncovered new clues to understanding the immediate surroundings of these enigmatic objects.
Black holes can feed off a nearby star and create discs of material – accretion discs – such as gas, dust and other stellar debris that has come close to it but not quite fallen in.
Here, the effect of a black hole’s strong gravity and the material’s own magnetic field can cause rapidly changing levels of radiation to be emitted from the system as a whole.
This radiation was detected in visible light by the HiPERCAM instrument on the Gran Telescopio Canarias (La Palma, Canary Islands) and in X-rays by Nasa’s NICER observatory aboard the International Space Station.
The research published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society studied a black hole system called MAXI J1820+070, which was first discovered in early 2018.