Black Hole Flight Simulator

The BHFS

All the general relativistic black hole visualizations on this website were made by me using the Black Hole Flight Simulator (BHFS).

I started doing simple black hole animations in 1996. During 1997 and 1998 I developed a website Falling into a Black Hole.

I began writing the BHFS when I had the privelege of spending the 2001/2 academic year on sabbatical with the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

The BHFS features:
  • Comprehensive implementation of special relativity.
  • Comprehensive realization of the complete Reissner-Nordstriöm geometry of an ideal, non-rotating, charged black hole, including the interior of the black hole and its connections via wormholes and white holes to other universes, and thence to yet other universes. The mass and charge of the black hole are arbitrarily adjustable. The BHFS does not yet implement rotating black holes (Kerr-Newman geometry), but I hope to fix that one day.
  • Full implementation of arbitrary numbers of “rigid body” objects, which by default move along geodesics. The observer is attached to one such object.
  • Full implementation of arbitrary numbers of “free-fall” objects, each of whose parts moves along its own geodesic, so that the object is tidally torn apart as it moves.
  • General relativistic volume-rendering, both outside and inside the horizon.
  • Interactive control, with mouse and keyboard, of the view, of the motion of the observer, and of numerous aspects of the scene.
  • Command line control over an internet socket connection allows total control of every aspect of the scene and flightpath. This allows rendering reproducible scenes for film and TV.
  • Able to render to arbitrary single- or multi-piped graphics configurations.
  • HDR (High Dynamic Range) color-rendering with ILM's OpenEXR 16-bit half-float format.
  • Numerous accelerations, fast algorithms, and graphic refinements designed to achieve seamless high-quality rendering while maintaining maximum speed.


BHFS appearances

Visualizations with the BHFS feature in:
  1. “Black Holes: The Other Side of Infinity” (2006) produced by the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Immersive digital dome show distributed by Spitz.
  2. Watch “Black Holes: The Other Side of Infinity” (2006) on hulu.
  3. “Monster of the Milky Way” (2006) NOVA PBS documentary on black holes.
  4. “What's Inside a Black Hole?” on YouTube (2008).
  5. “Monster Black Holes” (2008) National Geographic Naked Science series.
  6. “What would it look like to fall into a black hole?” (2009) New Scientist featured video. According to James Urquhart, web video producer at New Scientist, this was New Scientist's number one most popular video of 2009. Posted on YouTube.
  7. “Astronomers take virtual plunge into black hole” (2009) CNN featured video.
  8. “Black Holes: Space Warps & Time Twists” (2009) Museum exhibit, Boston Museum of Science.
  9. “Black Holes Explained” (2009) Educational DVD by Alex Filippenko, published by The Teaching Company.
  10. “How the Universe Works: Black Holes” (2010) TV documentary, Discovery Channel.
  11. “Black Holes and Holographic Worlds” streamed live from the 2010 World Science Festival in New York.
  12. “Black Hole Odyssey” (2010) series 2, episode 8 of Discovery Channel's “Sci Fi Science: Physics of the Impossible” with Michio Kaku.
  13. “Sizing up the Universe” (2011) by J. Richard Gott and Robert J. Vanderbei, National Geographic Society, page 199
  14. “Beyond the Event Horizon” (2011) cover article for June 2011 issue of Discover magazine.
  15. “Beginning of the End” (2011) 23 June episode of National Geographic Channel's “Known Universe” series.
  16. “Fabric of the Cosmos” (2011) four-part NOVA PBS series with Brian Greene on the nature of space and time.
  17. “Black Hole 1” (2011) episode of NHK's (Japan Broadcasting Corporation's) “Cosmic Front” series.
  18. “What a trip through a wormhole would look like” (2012) New Scientist featured video. Ranked seventh in best videos of 2012.
  19. “Schrödingers katt 26.04.12” (2012) NRK (Norwegian TV).
  20. “What an astronaut sees when they cross the event horizon” (translation from Polish) (2012) Swiat Nauki (Scientific American Polish Edition).
  21. “Travel INSIDE a Black Hole (2012) Youtube video.
  22. “Science Fiction in Deutschland” Exhibition, 23 Nov 2012 – 1 Apr 2013.
  23. “Das grösste Loch des Universums” (2013) 2/13 edition of Welt der Wunder.
  24. “Future Earth” (2015) Documentary.
  25. What happens to you if you fall into a black hole (2016) BBC Earth video.


Is the BHFS available for download?

Unfortunately no, the BHFS is not publically available. I hope that one day the BHFS will become public, but that has not yet happened. The BHFS is a complex code, with more than 100,000 lines of c and c++. The BHFS is hard to use and hard to compile. It works only under linux, and it is built on SGI's OpenGL Performer, which SGI have ceased supporting.