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Catholic university astrophysicist creates black hole simulation in VR

J-P Mauro - published on 09/01/20

A 360-degree view of the center of the Milky Way Galaxy.

A team of researchers from the Instituto de Astrofísica VR Lab at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile has released a virtual simulation of the black hole at the center of our galaxy. Known as “Galactic Center VR,” the short video, released on the Chandra X-ray Observatory Youtube channel, offers a 360-degree view of the center of the Milky Way, which takes the viewer through about 500 years of stellar movement.

The simulation puts the viewer in the place of the black hole itself, Sagittarius A*, and allows for full rotation of the camera. The team explains in the video notes that the simulation shows “stellar giants” moving around the galactic center, while “stellar winds” blow off their surfaces to create different colors. Thankfully, they went into a little detail as to what these colors represent. They wrote:

Blue and cyan represent X-ray emission from hot gas with temperatures of tens of millions of degrees, while the red emission shows ultraviolet emission from moderately dense regions of cooler gas with temperatures of tens of thousands of degrees, and yellow shows the cooler gas with the highest densities.

Gabrielle Obusek of Catholic University of America spoke with Christopher Russell, a postdoctoral researcher of astrophysics at Catholic University of America, who led the VR team. He told the academic publication that the results were achieved through the use of a NASA supercomputer, which allowed them to conduct an accurate simulation utilizing data drawn from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory.

Of the project, Russell told CUA:

“Our goal for the VR experience is to explore these simulations in a completely immersive fashion,” said Russell. “We take the output of our supercomputer simulations — position, density, and X-ray emission of every stellar-wind element, the star positions, and the SMBH location — and load all of it directly into a virtual environment. The output is not pared down or simplified in any way; everything in the virtual environment comes directly from the simulation.”

The project reportedly took 14 months to complete. Russell went on to express his hope that the team will be able to produce similar VR experiences of other astronomical bodies in the years to come.

Read more at CUA.

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