In their efforts to make the film "Interstellar" a scientifically plausible piece of space drama, director Christopher Nolan and his production team inadvertently made a new discovery about black holes. 

Under the guidance of theoretical physicist Kip Thorne (who also served as an executive producer on the film), Nolan set out to model what a black hole and wormhole might look like — a feat never done with any level of accuracy in Hollywood. 

"One of the things that I found really inspiring about working with [Kip] is that, when I would ask him a question, he would never answer in the moment. He might give me his initial thought of, 'OK, I don't think that's possible, but let me go away,' " Nolan told the Hollywood Reporter. "He would always go away and spend a couple of days doing his own calculations and talking to other scientists and researching all the different papers that had been published on the subject, and then he would come back with an answer. He would never get frustrated [with] my endless questions."

In his effort to find answers to Nolan's questions, Thorne produced a series of equations for the modeling of a black hole that special effects artists were then able to feed into a rendering program. As VFX supervisor Paul Franklin explains in a new video, what they saw next surprised everyone. 

"The gravity of the black hole draws in all the matter of the surrounding universe, and this spins out into a giant disc around the central sphere," explained Franklin. "And as it whirls in towards the center, the gas gets hotter and hotter — and this thing, the accretion disc around it, shines brilliantly. And then we found that if you render this whole thing, if you visualize it through this extraordinary gravitational lens, the gravity twists this glowing disc of gas into weird shapes — and you get this sort of rainbow of fire across the top of the black hole." 

light around a black hole

This equations provided by Kip Thorne produced an unusual phenomenon of light around the black hole. (Photo: Interstellar 

As UniverseToday reported, the special effects team at first thought there must be something wrong with their models, but Thorne confirmed the phenomenon. “This is our observational data,” he told the site of the movie's visualizations. “That’s the way nature behaves. Period.”

"The collaboration has produced a visualization of things that nobody had ever managed to do before," added VFX supervisor Paul Franklin. "We potentially may have discovered a couple of new things that were lurking there inside the mathematics, inside the physics."

Thorne predicts he'll be able to publish at least two technical papers based on "Interstellar's" special FX, one "aimed at the astrophysics community and one for the computer graphics community." 

Check out the production team speaking about their discoveries in the video below:

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Michael d'Estries ( @michaeldestries ) covers science, technology, art, and the beautiful, unusual corners of our incredible world.

Getting the physics details right results in black hole breakthrough for 'Interstellar' crew
Under the guidance of theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, the special effects team produced an image of a black hole that no one expected.