In February of 2012, astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope discovered a cluster of young, blue stars in the spectacular edge-on galaxy (ESO 243-49 above), encircling the first intermediate-mass black hole ever found. The presence of the star cluster suggests that the black hole was once at the core of a now-disintegrated dwarf galaxy.
Nolan 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.
The black hole in question resides 60 million light years away at the centre of the NGC 1365 spiral galaxy, is a mind-boggling 3.2 million kilometres in diameter, has a mass two million times that of our Sun and is spinning at a rather impressive 1.08 billion km/h. Astronomers can now say this with confidence, after combining the efforts of Nasa's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (Nustar) — which measures high-energy X-rays — and the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton, which measures low-energy X-rays.