Sci-fi film Interstellar leads to new scientific discovery

Director Christopher Nolan makes an unexpected contribution to human progress

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Interstellar (2014)
via Paramount Pictures

Christopher Nolan's Interstellar is still two weeks from release, but that hasn't stopped it from shaking up the world in a very unexpected way. Namely, the sci-fi film has actually led to a new scientific discovery about the nature of black holes. 

As reported in WIREDNolan enlisted astrophysicist Kip Thorne to work with his special effects team in order to create the most realistic looking black hole on cinema. Thorne started by sending pages and pages of equations that Nolan's animators fed into their rendering software.

Thorne, who'd previously worked with Carl Sagan on the Jodie Foster-starring space classic Contact (1997), had only ever conceived of a black hole theoretically. Nobody had any idea what it would actually look like. 

What the computers finally churned out after hours of rendering – all 800 terabytes of it – was astounding. Turns out that a black hole doesn't look too much like its name. It actually looks like this: 

"We found that warping space around the black hole also warps the accretion disk," special effects head Paul Franklin said. "So rather than looking like Saturn's rings around a black sphere, the light creates this extraordinary halo." 

Thorne quickly realised that the model generated by Nolan's team is as scientifically accurate as it gets. Forget artistic licence; this is what black holes actually look like. "This is our observational data," Thorne explained. "That's the way nature behaves. Period."

The scientists says that he can publish at least two research papers based on the find. So when you watch Matthew McConaughey save the world in Interstellar, you're also watching scientific progress in motion. Pretty cool, right? 

Watch the trailer for Interstellar below and RT our tweet to win a pair of IMAX tickets to the European premiere October 29, and a chance to be one of the first in the UK to try out the Interstellar Oculus Rift experience

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