Data from a black hole proves, for the first time, a key theory Einstein formulated 100 years ago

Researchers have finally confirmed one of Albert Einstein's key predictions in his theory of gravity, namely that black holes do, in fact, have an extremely strong gravitational pull.

Black hole, Chandra X-ray Observatory photo

A team from the University of Oxford used data from ultra-powerful X-ray telescopes to better understand black holes and observed the gravity in “the strongest possible form”, reports The Independent.

Einstein's theory states that it is impossible for matter particles to consistently follow circular orbits when near a black hole. Instead, they are quickly pulled toward the object at close to the speed of light, giving it its name “plunge”.

“Einstein's theory says that this final plunge would exist, but this is the first time we've been able to demonstrate that it happens,” said Dr. Andrew Mummery from Oxford University's Department of Physics.

“We think this represents an exciting new development in the study of black holes, allowing us to investigate this final zone around them. Only then will we be able to fully understand the gravitational force.” he stated.

The researchers say that for decades there has been much debate among astrophysicists about whether the so-called plunge region would be detectable.

The Oxford team has spent the past two years developing models for it, and in a study that has just been published, has demonstrated the first confirmed detection, found using X-ray telescopes and data from the International Space Station.

A second team from Oxford hopes to capture the first images of larger and more distant black holes later this year.

“What's really exciting is that there are many black holes in the galaxy, and we now have a powerful new technique to use them to study the strongest known gravitational fields,” Dr Mummery said.

The findings were detailed in a study, titled “Continuum emission from within the plunging region of black hole discs,” published Thursday in The Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.