Many of us have seen the standard artist’s representation of a black hole: a giant floating disk with roiling, glowing outer rings and an abruptly dark center from which we’re assured nothing, not even light, can escape. Such images are compelling, but they fail to portray the complex physical forces manifested by the black hole itself. When viewed through a real-life telescope, it turns out these cosmological beasts take a curious shape.
The first to accurately visualize a black hole was a French astrophysicist named Jean-Pierre Luminet. In 1978, Luminet used punch cards to write a computer program calculating the appearance of a black hole, and then—in what must have been an equally painstaking process—reproduced the image by hand using India ink on Canson negative paper. The resulting drawing, made of individual dots converging into a pleasantly organic, asymmetrical form, is as visually engaging as it is scientifically revealing.