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Thread: The movie Interstellar made scientific history

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    Lightbulb The movie Interstellar made scientific history

    Did anybody hear how Christopher Nolan's Interstellar discovered how black holes would really look like in real life? Apparently this was discovered when Kip Thorne's equations on a black hole were used by the special effects department. It mostly I think has to do with the fact that the accretion disk would also appear to wrap around the black hole due to gravitational lensing and that space is being dragged by the black hole as this one spins at close to the speed of light.

    http://www.wired.com/2014/10/astroph...ar-black-hole/

    http://www.businessinsider.com/inter...covery-2014-11

    http://www.space.com/27539-interstel...ics-video.html

    http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/spa...eakthrough-for

    http://news.discovery.com/space/inte...-fi-141029.htm

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    There wasn't a single peer-reviewed scientific journal among your links. So maybe we need to take this "Hollywood director figures out what black holes look like" with a bit of sodium-chloride?
    Asteroids are nature's way of asking:
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    Quote Originally Posted by Marakai View Post
    There wasn't a single peer-reviewed scientific journal among your links. So maybe we need to take this "Hollywood director figures out what black holes look like" with a bit of sodium-chloride?
    Not a Hollywood director, Kip Thorne, famous relativicist. "He is also the executive producer and scientific consultant for the film," according to the third link.

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    The BH in the movie, from the brief shot I've seen, reminded me of the cover of Taylor/Wheeler, which is a view of Saturn behind a BH.
    See http://www.eftaylor.com/general.html.

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    Quote Originally Posted by loglo View Post
    The BH in the movie, from the brief shot I've seen, reminded me of the cover of Taylor/Wheeler, which is a view of Saturn behind a BH.
    See http://www.eftaylor.com/general.html.
    And the gross appearance of the accretion disc under the effects of gravitational lensing are illustrated as long ago as Luminet's book Black Holes in 1992.
    This is not new stuff. It may be the working out of detail of old stuff.

    Grant Hutchison

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    Quote Originally Posted by MVAgusta1078RR View Post
    Apparently this was discovered when Kip Thorne's equations on a black hole were used by the special effects department.
    I seriously doubt the special effects department was up to the task of Einstein's field equations. Of course, that's where Kip comes in, who is certainly up to that task. He was apparently able to simplify the algorithms used by the CG team. They can cheat, you know.
    Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.

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    Where's the scientific history in this?
    Has there been anything learned from this other than this being an "artistic impression"?
    Certainly, the technique to gain that impression is very technically sound and impressive, but it's still just a visualization. Or probably more accurate, a computer graphics simulation.

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    It might be historic as the first movie based on a scientific paper, I can't recall any other instances of that.

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    Quote Originally Posted by KaiYeves View Post
    It might be historic as the first movie based on a scientific paper, I can't recall any other instances of that.
    But that's entertainment history, not scientific history.
    You can also argue almost any realistic sci-fi movie has elements based on scientific papers. I don't know if any were visual effects based on the math, but there have been based on descriptions.

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    Quote Originally Posted by NEOWatcher View Post
    But that's entertainment history, not scientific history.
    You can also argue almost any realistic sci-fi movie has elements based on scientific papers. I don't know if any were visual effects based on the math, but there have been based on descriptions.
    Well, it would be the history of what happened to that scientific paper, so I guess it would be... whatever kind of history being the first paper published in a certain journal would be? Historiography of science?

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    Quote Originally Posted by KaiYeves View Post
    Well, it would be the history of what happened to that scientific paper
    Nothing happened to the paper. It's something that is a result of what was previously discovered.
    I generate unique and useful programs on the computer everyday. No matter how brilliant my program may be, it is programming history, not history of the language I used.

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    I think they mean it made scientific history because it spawned a paper on black holes that apparently Kip Thorne is working on now because of what they discovered from the simulation. I found his site at Caltech but I couldn't find the paper so I'm guessing he's not finished with it. He states in this video that there will be a paper for the scientific community and another one for the computer graphics community:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MfGfZwQ_qaY

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    Quote Originally Posted by MVAgusta1078RR View Post
    I think they mean it made scientific history because it spawned a paper on black holes that apparently Kip Thorne is working on now because of what they discovered from the simulation.
    Well that's different.

    I didn't read all the articles in the OP, but there was enough to give me an impression that it was the visualization that was the big thing.
    Either I missed any of the clues, or there were none.

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    I remember reading about some CG people solving a scientific problem about how water refracts through water droplets in their efforts to better simulate a rainbow. I don't have any links but it can probably be googled up without much trouble.

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    Here is the relevant chapter and illustrations from Luminet (1992). Computer-generated image near the bottom of the page. It immediately highlights something that is wrong in the images linked in the OP - the accretion disc should be much brighter on one side of the black hole than on the other, because its very rapid motion makes it appear much hotter on the side that is approaching us than on the side that is receding from us.
    Of course Thorne would know that, so I can only assume the movie makers disliked the lopsided appearance of a real accretion disc and ran their calculations using a nonrotating (!) accretion disc instead.

    Grant Hutchison

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    Here is the relevant chapter and illustrations from Luminet (1992). Computer-generated image near the bottom of the page. It immediately highlights something that is wrong in the images linked in the OP - the accretion disc should be much brighter on one side of the black hole than on the other, because its very rapid motion makes it appear much hotter on the side that is approaching us than on the side that is receding from us.
    Of course Thorne would know that, so I can only assume the movie makers disliked the lopsided appearance of a real accretion disc and ran their calculations using a nonrotating (!) accretion disc instead.

    Grant Hutchison
    Maybe they approached from the poles?
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    Quote Originally Posted by NEOWatcher View Post
    Well that's different.

    I didn't read all the articles in the OP, but there was enough to give me an impression that it was the visualization that was the big thing.
    Either I missed any of the clues, or there were none.
    From what I see they didn't start with a preconceived notion of what a black hole might look like and work from there in creating their visuals for the movie, they depended on Thorne to provide the formulas to guide the rendering.

    http://www.wired.com/2014/10/astroph...ar-black-hole/

    Thorne sent his answers to Franklin in the form of heavily researched memos. Pages long, deeply sourced, and covered in equations, they were more like scientific journal articles than anything else. Franklin's team wrote new rendering software based on these equations and spun up a wormhole. The result was extraordinary. It was like a crystal ball reflecting the universe, a spherical hole in spacetime. “Science fiction always wants to dress things up, like it's never happy with the ordinary universe,” he says. “What we were getting out of the software was compelling straight off.”
    They then rendered in very fine detail what a rapidly spinning black hole with an accretion disk might look like, basically they modeled a black hole using powerful computers and derived new insights into possible physical properties of one from what I get from the articles.

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    Contact had a device described by physicist, but it was still science fiction.

    Any interesting aside - The Time Machine used real world model by computer for the first time. Interesting, but it was just a special effect to show skeletons falling apart under gravity. The makers of the Incredibles found that it was easier to use a model of distorted space to model Elasticgirl rather than come up with something different. I don't know what formula they used, but some real science was used to make her character work rather than some other method. It is still a cartoon.
    Solfe

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    Quote Originally Posted by starcanuck64 View Post
    From what I see they didn't start with a preconceived notion of what a black hole might look like and work from there in creating their visuals for the movie, they depended on Thorne to provide the formulas to guide the rendering.

    They then rendered in very fine detail what a rapidly spinning black hole with an accretion disk might look like, basically they modeled a black hole using powerful computers..
    That's how it came across to me earlier and it meant nothing to me other than using scientific formulas to do the rendering.

    Quote Originally Posted by starcanuck64 View Post
    ...and derived new insights into possible physical properties of one from what I get from the articles.
    That's the part I didn't pick up on.
    I guess it boils down to this statemen:
    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,
    But; Grant also points out something interesting about the lopsidedness vs this visualization. Hopefully, Thorne's future papers will resolve that.
    At minimum, the view of the accretion disc around the full ring seems to be new.

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    Quote Originally Posted by NEOWatcher View Post
    At minimum, the view of the accretion disc around the full ring seems to be new.
    But it isn't - it's just a gravitational lens, and we've known about that for a long time. You can figure out how the sightlines cross close behind the black hole with a programmable calculator. And Luminet tells us he generated his first computer image of a black hole accretion disc in 1972, which must have involved a mainframe and plotter.
    I don't know what it is that Thorne wasn't expecting, but I'd be very surprised if it was as simple as the lensed view of the accretion disc.

    Grant Hutchison

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    But it isn't - it's just a gravitational lens, and we've known about that for a long time. You can figure out how the sightlines cross close behind the black hole with a programmable calculator. And Luminet tells us he generated his first computer image of a black hole accretion disc in 1972, which must have involved a mainframe and plotter.
    I was going by the image in your link. It doesn't look like the accretion disk is being lensed to that extent. (at least, not to me)

    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    I don't know what it is that Thorne wasn't expecting, but I'd be very surprised if it was as simple as the lensed view of the accretion disc.
    Yep; that's what I'm trying to understand.

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    Quote Originally Posted by NEOWatcher View Post
    But; Grant also points out something interesting about the lopsidedness vs this visualization. Hopefully, Thorne's future papers will resolve that.
    At minimum, the view of the accretion disc around the full ring seems to be new.
    I'm looking forward to reading what is produced from this, I don't really understand the details of frame dragging and maybe this will make it easier to grasp.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Solfe View Post
    Contact had a device described by physicist, but it was still science fiction.
    Same physicist, too. Carl Sagan consulted Kip Thorne when he was looking for at least semi-plausible physics to describe travelling through a wormhole, so that his characters could get where they were going faster than light.
    Conserve energy. Commute with the Hamiltonian.

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    Quote Originally Posted by NEOWatcher View Post
    I was going by the image in your link. It doesn't look like the accretion disk is being lensed to that extent. (at least, not to me)
    Same calculations, but Luminet's rendering has a viewpoint above the plane of the disc, so it's vertically asymmetrical. But you can see from his Figure 32 that he predicted the "underside" of the disc could still be seen even in an off-equatorial view.
    To me, the movie version looks just like a more symmetrical (and detailed) version of Luminet's image - less vertical offset, and neglecting the left-right variation in brightness because of relativistic Doppler.

    Grant Hutchison

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    I once heard a talk from a physicist who helped with CGI in movies, and he said that the artistic department always got the final say. So if they calculated the trajectory of a spray of water, for example, the artistic department had a tendency to say "it doesn't look quite right to me, we need to slow the droplets down a little", etc. It sounds like perhaps this movie is the first time the physicist got the last say.

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    Some simple relativity movies here by Corvin Zahn. They include a 1990 ray tracing which demonstrates the appearance of a ring around a black hole, viewed from the equatorial plane. It looks pretty much as if it could be a check-rendering for the Interstellar image.
    And here is a link to Vincent et al.'s 2011 paper on ray-tracing the Kerr metric. Their figure 3 more or less reproduces the view Luminet rendered of a Schwarzschild hole in 1972.

    Grant Hutchison

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    Here is an interview with Thorne in which he describes what he actually found out from the high-res images the animators produced. Given that he reports apparent motion in the image, I'm guessing that either the observer is moving relative to the hole, or they're using something lumpier than the Kerr metric.
    We learned [that] when you have a fast-spinning black hole, without any accretion disk, and let it just lens the distant sky—a star field—we saw a fantastically beautiful structure that is sort of like a fingerprint, but much more complex. We’ve long known that you’ll get multiple images of each star [around a black hole], due to [the combination of] light rays that come pretty much directly to the camera, [and] rays that go in and circle around the black hole once and come to the camera. But what we found was that on the side of the spinning black hole where space is moving towards us, [you see this beautiful structure]. It was completely unexpected with huge amounts of internal structure in it, regions where the star field appears to be quiescent and other regions where the stars seem to be whirling around in little vortices. To me it’s a lovely kind of discovery in the sense that it is really very beautiful and it arises from a collaboration between a scientist and a group of computer artists. We are submitting a paper about this and about the particular method that Double Negative uses to the journal Classical and Quantum Gravity.

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    Of course the first concern one has is of numerical artifacts, but one hopes they ruled that out first.

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    Quote Originally Posted by grant hutchison View Post
    Here is the relevant chapter and illustrations from Luminet (1992). Computer-generated image near the bottom of the page. It immediately highlights something that is wrong in the images linked in the OP - the accretion disc should be much brighter on one side of the black hole than on the other, because its very rapid motion makes it appear much hotter on the side that is approaching us than on the side that is receding from us.
    Of course Thorne would know that, so I can only assume the movie makers disliked the lopsided appearance of a real accretion disc and ran their calculations using a nonrotating (!) accretion disc instead.
    According to the current New Scientist, Nolan did indeed veto the correct asymmetrical appearance of the accretion disc, preferring the symmetry of an early rendering that did not reproduce the visual effects of disc rotation. He also slowed down the black hole rotation to produce a more symmetrical appearance.
    The promised Classical and Quantum Gravity paper on the ray-tracing is here. The difference between the movie version and the realistic version is striking.

    Grant Hutchison

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken G View Post
    Of course the first concern one has is of numerical artifacts, but one hopes they ruled that out first.
    According to section 3.4 of the paper, the fingerprint-like region Thorne alluded to turned out to be caused by a bug in the code.

    Grant Hutchison

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