skip to main content


Title: Brightness Asymmetry of Black Hole Images as a Probe of Observer Inclination
Abstract

The Event Horizon Telescope recently captured images of the supermassive black hole in the center of the M87 galaxy, which shows a ring-like emission structure with the south side only slightly brighter than the north side. This relatively weak asymmetry in the brightness profile along the ring has been interpreted as a consequence of the low inclination of the observer (around 17° for M87), which suppresses the Doppler beaming and boosting effects that might otherwise be expected due to the nearly relativistic velocities of the orbiting plasma. In this work, we use a large suite of general relativistic magnetohydrodynamic simulations to reassess the validity of this argument. By constructing explicit counterexamples, we show that low inclination is a sufficient but not necessary condition for images to have low brightness asymmetry. Accretion flow models with high accumulated magnetic flux close to the black hole horizon (the so-called magnetically arrested disks) and low black hole spins have angular velocities that are substantially smaller than the orbital velocities of test particles at the same location. As a result, such models can produce images with low brightness asymmetry even when viewed edge on.

 
more » « less
Award ID(s):
1903847 1743747
NSF-PAR ID:
10361647
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ;
Publisher / Repository:
DOI PREFIX: 10.3847
Date Published:
Journal Name:
The Astrophysical Journal
Volume:
924
Issue:
2
ISSN:
0004-637X
Format(s):
Medium: X Size: Article No. 46
Size(s):
["Article No. 46"]
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. null (Ed.)
    The Event Horizon Telescope recently captured images of the supermassive black hole in the center of the M87 galaxy, which show a ring-like emission structure with the South side only slightly brighter than the North side. This relatively weak asymmetry in the brightness profile along the ring has been interpreted as a consequence of the low inclination of the observer (around 17 deg for M87), which suppresses the Doppler beaming and boosting effects that might otherwise be expected due to the nearly relativistic velocities of the orbiting plasma. In this work, we use a large suite of general relativistic magnetohydrodynamic simulations to reassess the validity of this argument. By constructing explicit counter examples, we show that low-inclination is a sufficient but not necessary condition for images to have low brightness asymmetry. Accretion flow models with high accumulated magnetic flux close to the black hole horizon (the so-called magnetically arrested disks) and low black-hole spins have angular velocities that are substantially smaller than the orbital velocities of test particles at the same location. As a result, such models can produce images with low brightness asymmetry even when viewed edge on. 
    more » « less
  2. Abstract We present the first Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) observations of Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), the Galactic center source associated with a supermassive black hole. These observations were conducted in 2017 using a global interferometric array of eight telescopes operating at a wavelength of λ = 1.3 mm. The EHT data resolve a compact emission region with intrahour variability. A variety of imaging and modeling analyses all support an image that is dominated by a bright, thick ring with a diameter of 51.8 ± 2.3 μ as (68% credible interval). The ring has modest azimuthal brightness asymmetry and a comparatively dim interior. Using a large suite of numerical simulations, we demonstrate that the EHT images of Sgr A* are consistent with the expected appearance of a Kerr black hole with mass ∼4 × 10 6 M ⊙ , which is inferred to exist at this location based on previous infrared observations of individual stellar orbits, as well as maser proper-motion studies. Our model comparisons disfavor scenarios where the black hole is viewed at high inclination ( i > 50°), as well as nonspinning black holes and those with retrograde accretion disks. Our results provide direct evidence for the presence of a supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, and for the first time we connect the predictions from dynamical measurements of stellar orbits on scales of 10 3 –10 5 gravitational radii to event-horizon-scale images and variability. Furthermore, a comparison with the EHT results for the supermassive black hole M87* shows consistency with the predictions of general relativity spanning over three orders of magnitude in central mass. 
    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    Low-collisionality plasma in a magnetic field generically develops anisotropy in its distribution function with respect to the magnetic field direction. Motivated by the application to radiation from accretion flows and jets, we explore the effect of temperature anisotropy on synchrotron emission. We derive analytically and provide numerical fits for the polarized synchrotron emission and absorption coefficients for a relativistic bi-Maxwellian plasma (we do not consider Faraday conversion/rotation). Temperature anisotropy can significantly change how the synchrotron emission and absorption coefficients depend on observing angle with respect to the magnetic field. The emitted linear polarization fraction does not depend strongly on anisotropy, while the emitted circular polarization does. We apply our results to black hole imaging of Sgr A* and M87* by ray tracing a GRMHD simulation and assuming that the plasma temperature anisotropy is set by the thresholds of kinetic-scale anisotropy-driven instabilities. We find that the azimuthal asymmetry of the 230 GHz images can change by up to a factor of 3, accentuating (T>T) or counteracting (T<T) the image asymmetry produced by Doppler beaming. This can change the physical inferences from observations relative to models with an isotropic distribution function, e.g., by allowing for larger inclination between the line of sight and spin direction in Sgr A*. The observed image diameter and the size of the black hole shadow can also vary significantly due to plasma temperature anisotropy. We describe how the anisotropy of the plasma can affect future multifrequency and photon ring observations. We also calculate kinetic anisotropy-driven instabilities (mirror, whistler, and firehose) for relativistically hot plasmas.

     
    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) observations have revealed a bright ring of emission around the supermassive black hole at the center of the M87 galaxy. EHT images in linear polarization have further identified a coherent spiral pattern around the black hole, produced from ordered magnetic fields threading the emitting plasma. Here we present the first analysis of circular polarization using EHT data, acquired in 2017, which can potentially provide additional insights into the magnetic fields and plasma composition near the black hole. Interferometric closure quantities provide convincing evidence for the presence of circularly polarized emission on event-horizon scales. We produce images of the circular polarization using both traditional and newly developed methods. All methods find a moderate level of resolved circular polarization across the image (〈∣v∣〉 < 3.7%), consistent with the low image-integrated circular polarization fraction measured by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (∣vint∣ < 1%). Despite this broad agreement, the methods show substantial variation in the morphology of the circularly polarized emission, indicating that our conclusions are strongly dependent on the imaging assumptions because of the limited baseline coverage, uncertain telescope gain calibration, and weakly polarized signal. We include this upper limit in an updated comparison to general relativistic magnetohydrodynamic simulation models. This analysis reinforces the previously reported preference for magnetically arrested accretion flow models. We find that most simulations naturally produce a low level of circular polarization consistent with our upper limit and that Faraday conversion is likely the dominant production mechanism for circular polarization at 230 GHz in M87*.

     
    more » « less
  5. Abstract

    The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) has produced images of M87* and Sagittarius A*, and will soon produce time sequences of images, or movies. In anticipation of this, we describe a technique to measure the rotation rate, or pattern speed Ωp, from movies using an autocorrelation technique. We validate the technique on Gaussian random field models with a known rotation rate and apply it to a library of synthetic images of Sgr A* based on general relativistic magnetohydrodynamics simulations. We predict that EHT movies will have Ωp≈ 1° perGMc−3, which is of order 15% of the Keplerian orbital frequency in the emitting region. We can plausibly attribute the slow rotation seen in our models to the pattern speed of inward-propagating spiral shocks. We also find that Ωpdepends strongly on inclination. Application of this technique will enable us to compare future EHT movies with the clockwise rotation of Sgr A* seen in near-infrared flares by GRAVITY. Pattern speed analysis of future EHT observations of M87* and Sgr A* may also provide novel constraints on black hole inclination and spin, as well as an independent measurement of black hole mass.

     
    more » « less