skip to main content

Title: Polarization whorls from M87* at the event horizon telescope
The event horizon telescope (EHT) is expected to soon produce polarimetric images of the supermassive black hole at the centre of the neighbouring galaxy M87. There are indications that this black hole is rapidly spinning. General relativity predicts that such a high-spin black hole has an emergent conformal symmetry near its event horizon. In this paper, we use this symmetry to analytically predict the polarized near-horizon emissions to be seen at the EHT and find a distinctive pattern of whorls aligned with the spin.
; ; ; ;
Award ID(s):
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract The direct detection of a bright, ring-like structure in horizon-resolving images of M87* by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) is a striking validation of general relativity. The angular size and shape of the ring is a degenerate measure of the location of the emission region, mass, and spin of the black hole. However, we show that the observation of multiple rings, corresponding to the low-order photon rings, can break this degeneracy and produce mass and spin measurements independent of the shape of the rings. We describe two potential experiments that would measure the spin. In the first, observations ofmore »the direct emission and n = 1 photon ring are made at multiple epochs with different emission locations. This method is conceptually similar to spacetime constraints that arise from variable structures (or hot spots) in that it breaks the near-perfect degeneracy between emission location, mass, and spin for polar observers using temporal variability. In the second, observations of the direct emission and n = 1 and n = 2 photon rings are made during a single epoch. For both schemes, additional observations comprise a test of general relativity. Thus, comparisons of EHT observations in 2017 and 2018 may be capable of producing the first horizon-scale spin estimates of M87* inferred from strong lensing alone. Additional observation campaigns from future high-frequency, Earth-sized, and space-based radio interferometers can produce high-precision tests of general relativity.« less
  2. Abstract The black hole images obtained with the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) are expected to be variable at the dynamical timescale near their horizons. For the black hole at the center of the M87 galaxy, this timescale (5–61 days) is comparable to the 6 day extent of the 2017 EHT observations. Closure phases along baseline triangles are robust interferometric observables that are sensitive to the expected structural changes of the images but are free of station-based atmospheric and instrumental errors. We explored the day-to-day variability in closure-phase measurements on all six linearly independent nontrivial baseline triangles that can be formedmore »from the 2017 observations. We showed that three triangles exhibit very low day-to-day variability, with a dispersion of ∼3°–5°. The only triangles that exhibit substantially higher variability (∼90°–180°) are the ones with baselines that cross the visibility amplitude minima on the u – v plane, as expected from theoretical modeling. We used two sets of general relativistic magnetohydrodynamic simulations to explore the dependence of the predicted variability on various black hole and accretion-flow parameters. We found that changing the magnetic field configuration, electron temperature model, or black hole spin has a marginal effect on the model consistency with the observed level of variability. On the other hand, the most discriminating image characteristic of models is the fractional width of the bright ring of emission. Models that best reproduce the observed small level of variability are characterized by thin ring-like images with structures dominated by gravitational lensing effects and thus least affected by turbulence in the accreting plasmas.« less
  3. Abstract The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) recently released the first linearly polarized images of the accretion flow around the supermassive black hole Messier 87*, hereafter M87*. The spiraling polarization pattern found in the EHT images favored magnetically arrested disks as the explanation for the EHT image. With next-generation improvements to very long baseline interferometry on the horizon, understanding similar polarized features in the highly lensed structure known as the “photon ring,” where photons make multiple half orbits about the black hole before reaching the observer, will be critical to the analysis of future images. Recent work has indicated that thismore »image region may be depolarized relative to more direct emission. We expand this observation by decomposing photon half orbits in the EHT library of simulated images of the M 87* accretion system and find that images of magnetically arrested disk simulations show a relative depolarization of the photon ring attributable to destructive interference of oppositely spiraling electric field vectors; this antisymmetry, which arises purely from strong gravitational lensing, can produce up to ∼50% depolarization in the photon ring region with respect to the direct image. In systems that are not magnetically arrested and with the exception of systems with high spin and ions and electrons of equal temperature, we find that highly lensed indirect subimages are almost completely depolarized, causing a modest depolarization of the photon ring region in the complete image. We predict that next-generation EHT observations of M 87* polarization should jointly constrain the black hole spin and the underlying emission and magnetic field geometry.« less
  4. The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) recently released the first horizon-scale images of the black hole in M87. Combined with other astronomical data, these images constrain the mass and spin of the hole as well as the accretion rate and magnetic flux trapped on the hole. An important question for the EHT is how well key parameters, such as trapped magnetic flux and the associated disk models, can be extracted from present and future EHT VLBI data products. The process of modeling visibilities and analyzing them is complicated by the fact that the data are sparsely sampled in the Fourier domainmore »while most of the theory/simulation is constructed in the image domain. Here we propose a data- driven approach to analyze complex visibilities and closure quantities for radio interferometric data with neural networks. Using mock interferometric data, we show that our neural networks are able to infer the accretion state as either high magnetic flux (MAD) or low magnetic flux (SANE), suggesting that it is possible to perform parameter extraction directly in the visibility domain without image reconstruction. We have applied VLBInet to real M87 EHT data taken on four di↵erent days in 2017 (April 5, 6, 10, 11), and our neural networks give a score prediction 0.52, 0.4, 0.43, 0.76 for each day, with an average score 0.53, which shows no significant indication for the data to lean toward either the MAD or SANE state.« less
  5. Abstract We report measurements of the gravitationally lensed secondary image—the first in an infinite series of so-called “photon rings”—around the supermassive black hole M87* via simultaneous modeling and imaging of the 2017 Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) observations. The inferred ring size remains constant across the seven days of the 2017 EHT observing campaign and is consistent with theoretical expectations, providing clear evidence that such measurements probe spacetime and a striking confirmation of the models underlying the first set of EHT results. The residual diffuse emission evolves on timescales comparable to one week. We are able to detect with high significancemore »a southwestern extension consistent with that expected from the base of a jet that is rapidly rotating in the clockwise direction. This result adds further support to the identification of the jet in M87* with a black hole spin-driven outflow, launched via the Blandford–Znajek process. We present three revised estimates for the mass of M87* based on identifying the modeled thin ring component with the bright ringlike features seen in simulated images, one of which is only weakly sensitive to the astrophysics of the emission region. All three estimates agree with each other and previously reported values. Our strongest mass constraint combines information from both the ring and the diffuse emission region, which together imply a mass-to-distance ratio of 4.20 − 0.06 + 0.12 μ as and a corresponding black hole mass of (7.13 ± 0.39) × 10 9 M ⊙ , where the error on the latter is now dominated by the systematic uncertainty arising from the uncertain distance to M87*.« less