Groundbreaking 1979 visualization of black hole

French physicist Jean-Pierre Luminet hand-plotted this image of a black hole in 1978, said to be the the first based on data rather than artistic speculation.

From Wikipedia:

1979 - He created the first "image" of a black hole with an accretion disk using nothing but an early computer, lots of math and India ink, predicting that it could apply to the supermassive massive black hole in the core of the elliptical galaxy M87. In April 2019 the Event Horizon Telescope Consortium provided a spectacular confirmation of Luminet’s predictions by providing the first telescopic image of the shadow of the M87* black hole and of its accretion disk.

He used punchcards on an IBM 7040 mainframe to plot elements often ignored in other depictions until recently: the slender photon ring, gravitaional light shifting, and lensing effects.

Luminet's own history of black hole visualization is your next stop.

The final black and white “photographic” image was obtained from these patterns. However, lacking at the time of an appropriate drawing software, I had to create it by hand. Using numerical data from the computer, I drew directly on negative Canson paper with black India ink, placing dots more densely where the simulation showed more light – a rather painstaking process! Next, I took the negative of my negative to get the positive, the black points becoming white and the white background becoming black. The result, The result converged into a pleasantly organic, asymmetrical form, as visually engaging as it was scientifically revealing.

He describes the field of astronomical visualizations such as his as a 'backwater' that saw no further development for a decade. In 1989, he and a colleague, Jean-Alain Marck, produced the following image (among others) on comtemporaneous computers.

Here it is animated:


The black hole visualizations obtained by Jean-Alain Marck not only were a very significant improvement of all previous work, but they would remain unsurpassed for about twenty years, both scientifically and aesthetically

Here's the cutting edge as of 2019, by Jeremy Schnittman at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Luminet published a book on black holes in 1992 [Amazon] and I'm wondering if it's worth slipping over the $150 hardback's Buy It Now event horizon.