When doing astronomy, you can’t blink, because the difference between a never-before-seen phenomenon, and just a regular day at the telescope can be as small as seeing faint X-rays turn into fainter X-rays for a short moment.
That’s what happened when astrophysicist Dan Wilkins noticed, upon fixing his telescopes on the supermassive blackhole at the center of the galaxy I Zwicky, that following a normal series of powerful X-rays being flung out from the center, came unexpected additional flashes of X-rays that were smaller, later, and of different “colors.”
The fainter, different colored lights came from behind the black hole when the powerful burst of X-rays reflected off gasses orbiting it, and which are drawn around by the magnetic and gravitational forces that blend space and time, allowing us to see them faintly.
“Any light that goes into that black hole doesn’t come out, so we shouldn’t be able to see anything that’s behind the black hole,” said Wilkins, a research scientist at the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology at Stanford, in a statement. “The reason we can see that is because that black hole is warping space, bending light, and twisting magnetic fields around itself.”
The discovery was made by the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton and NASA’s NuSTAR space telescopes, which captured the phenomenon in stages displayed for easy comprehension on the ESA website.