More than 100 years after it was first proposed, astrophysicists have proved the details of Albert Einstein’s theory on general relativity correct. For the first time, astronomers at Stanford University detected light coming from the back of a black hole.
Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity and why it was never proven
It has been commonly thought that because black holes suck in light, it was impossible for light to be reflected from them. Despite Einstein positing that light could be reflected from behind a black hole in his theory of general relativity.
Einstein’s theory stated that because of how black holes warp the space fabric around them, it should be possible to see light waves ejected out of a black hole’s backside as the twisted magnetic fields act as a mirror for the black hole.
Experts accepted his theory, but it was never technically proven as it was always deemed an unobservable phenomenon.
How it has been proved
Though it has been difficult to establish this proof, as black holes trap light, Stanford University’s Dr. Wilkins and his team made a remarkable discovery while investigating a supermassive black hole called I Zwicky 1, 800 million light-years away from Earth.
The light was spotted in the form of X-rays emitted from a supermassive black hole 800 million light-years away by Stanford University’s Dan Wilkins.
The team used a special high-power X-ray telescope to look at and study a black hole 800 million light-years away at the center of a galaxy far, far away. They discovered that the light was being ejected out of the black hole’s backside in the form of X-rays.
The Observations that proved Einstein’s Theory
When they observed the data they had collected, they discovered that the black hole they were studying was shooting X-rays directly at earth. That’s totally normal.
What wasn’t normal was that the team also saw X-rays being shot out in the exact opposite direction as reflections, thanks to the black hole’s twisted magnetic field.
“Any light that goes into that black hole doesn’t come out, so we shouldn’t be able to see anything that’s behind the black hole,” Wilkins said. “The reason we can see that is because that black hole is warping space, bending light and twisting magnetic fields around itself.”
This proves that Einstein’s theory is correct. Black holes warp space fabric so much that their magnetic fields can mirror light waves shot out of a black hole’s far side — without that mirror effect, scientists wouldn’t be able to actually observe those far-side light waves, despite knowing them to be there.
The mission to characterize and understand Black Holes continues and will require more observation. Part of that future will be the European Space Agency’s X-ray observatory, Athena (Advanced Telescope for High-Energy Astrophysics).
As a member of the lab of Steve Allen, professor of physics at Stanford, and particle physics and astrophysics at SLAC, Wilkins is helping develop part of the Wide Field Imager detector for Athena.
“It’s got a much bigger mirror than we’ve ever had on an X-ray telescope and it’s going to let us get higher resolution looks in much shorter observation times,” said Wilkins.
“So, the picture we are starting to get from the data at the moment is going to become much clearer with these new observatories.”