As I am sure many of you have heard by now, the black hole seen in the Christopher Nolan movie Interstellar is considered the most realistic portrayal of a black hole ever put on film. But did you know, in creating it (and ensuring it was accurate), they also discovered elements to the appearance of a black hole they would’ve never otherwise been able to figure out (as it would be scientifically impossible to get close to one without being swallowed up by it). From Wired:
Still, no one knew exactly what a black hole would look like until they actually built one. Light, temporarily trapped around the black hole, produced an unexpectedly complex fingerprint pattern near the black hole’s shadow. And the glowing accretion disk appeared above the black hole, below the black hole, and in front of it. “I never expected that,” Thorne says. “Eugénie just did the simulations and said, ‘Hey, this is what I got.’ It was just amazing.
In the end, Nolan got elegant images that advance the story. Thorne got a movie that teaches a mass audience some real, accurate science. But he also got something he didn’t expect: a scientific discovery. “This is our observational data,” he says of the movie’s visualizations. “That’s the way nature behaves. Period.” Thorne says he can get at least two published articles out of it.
People often ponder whether it’s life imitating art or it’s art imitating life. In this case, I think it is a little bit of both.