Skip to main content

I had no idea black hole visualizations with this level of fidelity went back so far. Brilliant! #space #RetroComputing

first simulated image of a black hole, calculated with an IBM 7040 computer using 1960 punch cards and hand-plotted by French astrophysicist Jean-Pierre Luminet in 1978.

Seems a bit doubtful to me ... that degree of sophistication wasn't even on anyone's radar back in 1978. I cry fake!
As best I can tell, it's real. I don't know what graphical device was used to draw the image. Scroll down in the linked article a bit to see the story about the 7040 rendition.

Pretty good. I remember when "Interstellar" came out, people remarked about the accuracy of the rendition of the black hole's image (how we would see it) in the movie, showing the back of the accretion disk at the top of the black hole. The 7040 image appears to show the same effect.
Original paper :
The plotting by hand always impressed me. He talks a little about the effort here:

Hank G reshared this.

I was reading Scientific American and New Scientist back in 1978 and the level of knowledge about black holes then does not match that image. Gravitational lensing of any kind was not observationally confirmed until 1979. That image has thousands of points ... it really is not hand plotted not is it plotted using a card deck. I've processed huge card decks and they are finniky beasts and hard to read visually. Generating an image like that would have been a major event in both the physics and computing worlds and taken man years of work. It looks like someone has applied a dot mask to a recent image. Science Alert doesn't give any details and the link that Rhysy provides is broken. I'm not convinced.
The link works for me. NASA's ADS is the absolute gold standard for finding astronomical papers (I am an astronomer, btw). I can state with certainty the image is real.
I have looked at Dr Luminet's web site and that image appears there. Separately in the blog he notes that he produced the first computer generated image of a black hole in 1979. If you look at this page you can see reproductions of the original images which show contour lines ... totally consistent with the computing capabilities of the time. That image is an "artists rendition" that Dr Luminet did by pointillist dotting the gradient densities. I call it an "artists rendition" because what he has done is enhance the contour line drawing rather than hand plot actual points calculated by his program. I am happy to accept he has access to more detailed models than were being published in SA and NS but to imply that that image is directly the one calculated by the computer is not really tenable.