skip to main content


Title: Spherical Accretion in Alternative Theories of Gravity
Abstract

The groundbreaking image of the black hole at the center of the M87 galaxy has raised questions at the intersection of observational astronomy and black hole physics. How well can the radius of a black hole shadow be measured, and can this measurement be used to distinguish general relativity from other theories of gravity? We explore these questions using a simple spherical flow model in general relativity, scalar Gauss–Bonnet gravity, and the Rezzolla and Zhidenko parameterized metric. We assume an optically thin plasma with power-law emissivity in radius. Along the way we present a generalized Bondi flow, as well as a piecewise analytic model for the brightness profile of a cold inflow. We use the second moment of a synthetic image as a proxy for EHT observables and compute the ratio of the second moment to the radius of the black hole shadow. We show that corrections to this ratio from modifications to general relativity are subdominant compared to corrections to the critical impact parameter, and we argue that this is generally true. In our simplified model the astrophysical parameter uncertainty dominates the gravity theory parameter uncertainty, underlining the importance of understanding the accretion model if EHT is to be used to successfully test theories of gravity.

 
more » « less
Award ID(s):
2007936
NSF-PAR ID:
10362338
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ;
Publisher / Repository:
DOI PREFIX: 10.3847
Date Published:
Journal Name:
The Astrophysical Journal
Volume:
925
Issue:
2
ISSN:
0004-637X
Format(s):
Medium: X Size: Article No. 119
Size(s):
["Article No. 119"]
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Horizon-scale images of black holes (BHs) and their shadows have opened an unprecedented window onto tests of gravity and fundamental physics in the strong-field regime. We consider a wide range of well-motivated deviations from classical general relativity (GR) BH solutions, and constrain them using the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) observations of Sagittarius A(Sgr A), connecting the size of the bright ring of emission to that of the underlying BH shadow and exploiting high-precision measurements of Sgr A’s mass-to-distance ratio. The scenarios we consider, and whose fundamental parameters we constrain, include various regular BHs, string-inspired space-times, violations of the no-hair theorem driven by additional fields, alternative theories of gravity, novel fundamental physics frameworks, and BH mimickers including well-motivated wormhole and naked singularity space-times. We demonstrate that the EHT image of Sgr Aplaces particularly stringent constraints on models predicting a shadow size larger than that of a Schwarzschild BH of a given mass, with the resulting limits in some cases surpassing cosmological ones. Our results are among the first tests of fundamental physics from the shadow of Sgr Aand, while the latter appears to be in excellent agreement with the predictions of GR, we have shown that a number of well-motivated alternative scenarios, including BH mimickers, are far from being ruled out at present.

     
    more » « less
  2. In April 2019, the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) collaboration revealed the first image of the candidate super- massive black hole (SMBH) at the centre of the giant elliptical galaxy Messier 87 (M87). This event-horizon-scale image shows a ring of glowing plasma with a dark patch at the centre, which is interpreted as the shadow of the black hole. This breakthrough result, which represents a powerful confirmation of Einstein’s theory of gravity, or general relativity, was made possible by assembling a global network of radio telescopes operating at millimetre wavelengths that for the first time included the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). The addition of ALMA as an anchor station has enabled a giant leap forward by increasing the sensitivity limits of the EHT by an order of magnitude, effectively turning it into an imaging array. The published image demonstrates that it is now possible to directly study the event horizon shadows of SMBHs via electromagnetic radiation, thereby transforming this elusive frontier from a mathematical concept into an astrophysical reality. The expansion of the array over the next few years will include new stations on different continents — and eventually satellites in space. This will provide progressively sharper and higher-fidelity images of SMBH candidates, and potentially even movies of the hot plasma orbiting around SMBHs. These improvements will shed light on the processes of black hole accretion and jet formation on event-horizon scales, thereby enabling more precise tests of general relativity in the truly strong field regime. 
    more » « less
  3. Abstract Gravitational waves emitted by black hole binary inspiral and mergers enable unprecedented strong-field tests of gravity, requiring accurate theoretical modeling of the expected signals in extensions of general relativity. In this paper we model the gravitational wave emission of inspiralling binaries in scalar Gauss–Bonnet gravity theories. Going beyond the weak-coupling approximation, we derive the gravitational waveform to relative first post-Newtonian order beyond the quadrupole approximation and calculate new contributions from nonlinear curvature terms. We also compute the scalar waveform to relative 0.5PN order beyond the leading −0.5PN order terms. We quantify the effect of these terms and provide ready-to-implement gravitational wave and scalar waveforms as well as the Fourier domain phase for quasi-circular binaries. We also perform a parameter space study, which indicates that the values of black hole scalar charges play a crucial role in the detectability of deviation from general relativity. We also compare the scalar waveforms to numerical relativity simulations to assess the impact of the relativistic corrections to the scalar radiation. Our results provide important foundations for future precision tests of gravity. 
    more » « less
  4. We construct an effective four-dimensional string-corrected black hole (4D SCBH) by rescaling the string coupling parameter in a D-dimensional Callan–Myers–Perry black hole. From the theoretical point of view, the most interesting findings are that the string corrections coincide with the so-called generalized uncertainty principle (GUP) corrections to black hole solutions, Bekenstein–Hawking entropy acquires logarithmic corrections, and that there exists a critical value of the coupling parameter for which the black hole temperature vanishes. We also find that, due to the string corrections, the nature of the central singularity may be altered from space-like to time-like singularity. In addition, we study the possibility of testing such a black hole with astrophysical observations. Since the dilaton field does not decouple from the metric, it is not a priori clear that the resulting 4D SCBH offers only small corrections to the Schwarzschild black hole. We used motion of the S2 star around the black hole at the center of our galaxy to constrain the parameters (the string coupling parameter and ADM mass) of the 4D SCBH. To test the weak gravity regime, we calculate the deflection angle in this geometry and apply it to gravitational lensing. To test the strong field regime, we calculate the black hole shadow radius. While we find that the observables change as we change the string coupling parameter, the magnitude of the change is too small to distinguish it from the Schwarzschild black hole. With the current precision, to the leading order terms, the 4D SCBH cannot be distinguished from the Schwarzschild black hole. 
    more » « less
  5. Context. High-frequency very-long-baseline interferometry (VLBI) observations can now resolve the event-horizon-scale emission from sources in the immediate vicinity of nearby supermassive black holes. Future space-VLBI observations will access highly lensed features of black hole images – photon rings – that will provide particularly sharp probes of strong-field gravity. Aims. Focusing on the particular case of the supermassive black hole M 87*, our goal is to explore a wide variety of accretion flows onto a Kerr black hole and to understand their corresponding images and visibilities. We are particularly interested in the visibility on baselines to space, which encodes the photon ring shape and whose measurement could provide a stringent test of the Kerr hypothesis. Methods. We developed a fully analytical model of stationary, axisymmetric accretion flows with a variable disk thickness and a matter four-velocity that can smoothly interpolate between purely azimuthal rotation and purely radial infall. To determine the observational appearance of such flows, we numerically integrated the general-relativistic radiative transfer equation in the Kerr spacetime, taking care to include the effects of thermal synchrotron emission and absorption. We then Fourier transformed the resulting images and analyzed their visibility amplitudes along the directions parallel and orthogonal to the black hole spin projected on the observer sky. Results. Our images generically display a wedding cake structure composed of discrete, narrow photon rings ( n  = 1, 2, …) stacked on top of broader primary emission that surrounds a central brightness depression of model-dependent size. At 230 GHz, the n  = 1 ring is always visible, but the n  = 2 ring is sometimes suppressed due to absorption. At 345 GHz, the medium is optically thinner and the n  = 2 ring displays clear signatures in both the image and visibility domains. We also examine the thermal synchrotron emissivity in the equatorial plane and show that it exhibits an exponential dependence on the radius for the preferred M 87* parameters. Conclusions. The black hole shadow is a model-dependent phenomenon – even for diffuse, optically thin sources – and should not be regarded as a generic prediction of general relativity. Observations at 345 GHz are promising for future space-VLBI measurements of the photon ring shape, since at this frequency the signal of the n  = 2 ring persists despite the disk thickness and nonzero absorption featured in our models. Future work is needed to investigate whether this conclusion holds in a larger variety of reasonable models. 
    more » « less