Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Chandra and XMM-Newton provide direct measurement of distant black hole's spin

Date:
March 5, 2014
Source:
NASA
Summary:
Astronomers have used NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Space Agency's (ESA's) XMM-Newton to show a supermassive black hole six billion light years from Earth is spinning extremely rapidly. This first direct measurement of the spin of such a distant black hole is an important advance for understanding how black holes grow over time.

Multiple images of a distant quasar are visible in this combined view from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope.
Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ of Michigan/R.C.Reis et al; Optical: NASA/STScI

Astronomers have used NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Space Agency's (ESA's) XMM-Newton to show a supermassive black hole six billion light years from Earth is spinning extremely rapidly. This first direct measurement of the spin of such a distant black hole is an important advance for understanding how black holes grow over time.

Related Articles


Black holes are defined by just two simple characteristics: mass and spin. While astronomers have long been able to measure black hole masses very effectively, determining their spins has been much more difficult.

In the past decade, astronomers have devised ways of estimating spins for black holes at distances greater than several billion light-years away, meaning we see the region around black holes as they were billions of years ago. However, determining the spins of these remote black holes involves several steps that rely on one another.

"We want to be able to cut out the middle man, so to speak, of determining the spins of black holes across the universe," said Rubens Reis of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, who led a paper describing this result that was published online Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Reis and his colleagues determined the spin of the supermassive black hole that is pulling in surrounding gas, producing an extremely luminous quasar known as RX J1131-1231 (RX J1131 for short). Because of fortuitous alignment, the distortion of space-time by the gravitational field of a giant elliptical galaxy along the line of sight to the quasar acts as a gravitational lens that magnifies the light from the quasar. Gravitational lensing, first predicted by Einstein, offers a rare opportunity to study the innermost region in distant quasars by acting as a natural telescope and magnifying the light from these sources.

"Because of this gravitational lens, we were able to get very detailed information on the X-ray spectrum -- that is, the amount of X-rays seen at different energies -- from RX J1131," said co-author Mark Reynolds also of Michigan. "This in turn allowed us to get a very accurate value for how fast the black hole is spinning."

The X-rays are produced when a swirling accretion disk of gas and dust that surrounds the black hole creates a multimillion-degree cloud, or corona near the black hole. X-rays from this corona reflect off the inner edge of the accretion disk. The strong gravitational forces near the black hole alter the reflected X-ray spectrum. The larger the change in the spectrum, the closer the inner edge of the disk must be to the black hole.

"We estimate that the X-rays are coming from a region in the disk located only about three times the radius of the event horizon, the point of no return for infalling matter," said Jon M. Miller of Michigan, another author on the paper. "The black hole must be spinning extremely rapidly to allow a disk to survive at such a small radius."

For example, a spinning black hole drags space around with it and allows matter to orbit closer to the black hole than is possible for a non-spinning black hole.

By measuring the spin of distant black holes researchers discover important clues about how these objects grow over time. If black holes grow mainly from collisions and mergers between galaxies, they should accumulate material in a stable disk, and the steady supply of new material from the disk should lead to rapidly spinning black holes. In contrast, if black holes grow through many small accretion episodes, they will accumulate material from random directions. Like a merry go round that is pushed both backwards and forwards, this would make the black hole spin more slowly.

The discovery that the black hole in RX J1131 is spinning at over half the speed of light suggests this black hole, observed at a distance of six billion light years, corresponding to an age about 7.7 billion years after the Big Bang, has grown via mergers, rather than pulling material in from different directions.

The ability to measure black hole spin over a large range of cosmic time should make it possible to directly study whether the black hole evolves at about the same rate as its host galaxy. The measurement of the spin of the RX J1131-1231 black hole is a major step along that path and demonstrates a technique for assembling a sample of distant supermassive black holes with current X-ray observatories.

Prior to the announcement of this work, the most distant black holes with direct spin estimates were located 2.5 billion and 4.7 billion light-years away.

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages the Chandra program for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass., controls Chandra's science and flight operations.

For an additional interactive image, podcast, and video on the finding, visit: http://chandra.si.edu

For Chandra images, multimedia and related materials, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/chandra


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. R. C. Reis, M. T. Reynolds, J. M. Miller, D. J. Walton. Reflection from the strong gravity regime in a lensed quasar at redshift z = 0.658. Nature, 2014; DOI: 10.1038/nature13031

Cite This Page:

NASA. "Chandra and XMM-Newton provide direct measurement of distant black hole's spin." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 March 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140305135456.htm>.
NASA. (2014, March 5). Chandra and XMM-Newton provide direct measurement of distant black hole's spin. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140305135456.htm
NASA. "Chandra and XMM-Newton provide direct measurement of distant black hole's spin." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140305135456.htm (accessed November 25, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Space & Time News

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Soyuz Spacecraft Docks With International Space Station: NASA

Soyuz Spacecraft Docks With International Space Station: NASA

AFP (Nov. 24, 2014) A Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying Italy's first female astronaut safely docks with the International Space Station, according to NASA. Duration: 00:40 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Multi-National Crew Safely Docks at Space Station

Multi-National Crew Safely Docks at Space Station

Reuters - US Online Video (Nov. 24, 2014) A Russian Soyuz rocket delivers a multi-national trio to the International Space Station. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Soyuz Docks With Int'l Space Station

Raw: Soyuz Docks With Int'l Space Station

AP (Nov. 23, 2014) A Russian capsule carrying three astronauts from Russia, the United States and Italy has arrived at the International Space Station. (Nov. 23) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Crew Blasts Off for Int'l Space Station

Raw: Crew Blasts Off for Int'l Space Station

AP (Nov. 23, 2014) A Russian capsule carrying three astronauts from Russia, the United States and Italy has blasted off for the International Space Station. (Nov. 23) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins