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  1. Abstract Recent developments in very long baseline interferometry (VLBI) have made it possible for the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) to resolve the innermost accretion flows of the largest supermassive black holes on the sky. The sparse nature of the EHT’s ( u , v )-coverage presents a challenge when attempting to resolve highly time-variable sources. We demonstrate that the changing ( u , v )-coverage of the EHT can contain regions of time over the course of a single observation that facilitate dynamical imaging. These optimal time regions typically have projected baseline distributions that are approximately angularly isotropic and radiallymore »homogeneous. We derive a metric of coverage quality based on baseline isotropy and density that is capable of ranking array configurations by their ability to produce accurate dynamical reconstructions. We compare this metric to existing metrics in the literature and investigate their utility by performing dynamical reconstructions on synthetic data from simulated EHT observations of sources with simple orbital variability. We then use these results to make recommendations for imaging the 2017 EHT Sgr A* data set.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available May 1, 2023
  2. Abstract The extraordinary physical resolution afforded by the Event Horizon Telescope has opened a window onto the astrophysical phenomena unfolding on horizon scales in two known black holes, M87 * and Sgr A*. However, with this leap in resolution has come a new set of practical complications. Sgr A* exhibits intraday variability that violates the assumptions underlying Earth aperture synthesis, limiting traditional image reconstruction methods to short timescales and data sets with very sparse ( u , v ) coverage. We present a new set of tools to detect and mitigate this variability. We develop a data-driven, model-agnostic procedure tomore »detect and characterize the spatial structure of intraday variability. This method is calibrated against a large set of mock data sets, producing an empirical estimator of the spatial power spectrum of the brightness fluctuations. We present a novel Bayesian noise modeling algorithm that simultaneously reconstructs an average image and statistical measure of the fluctuations about it using a parameterized form for the excess variance in the complex visibilities not otherwise explained by the statistical errors. These methods are validated using a variety of simulated data, including general relativistic magnetohydrodynamic simulations appropriate for Sgr A* and M87 * . We find that the reconstructed source structure and variability are robust to changes in the underlying image model. We apply these methods to the 2017 EHT observations of M87 * , finding evidence for variability across the EHT observing campaign. The variability mitigation strategies presented are widely applicable to very long baseline interferometry observations of variable sources generally, for which they provide a data-informed averaging procedure and natural characterization of inter-epoch image consistency.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available May 1, 2023
  3. Abstract In this paper we provide a first physical interpretation for the Event Horizon Telescope's (EHT) 2017 observations of Sgr A*. Our main approach is to compare resolved EHT data at 230 GHz and unresolved non-EHT observations from radio to X-ray wavelengths to predictions from a library of models based on time-dependent general relativistic magnetohydrodynamics simulations, including aligned, tilted, and stellar-wind-fed simulations; radiative transfer is performed assuming both thermal and nonthermal electron distribution functions. We test the models against 11 constraints drawn from EHT 230 GHz data and observations at 86 GHz, 2.2 μ m, and in the X-ray. Allmore »models fail at least one constraint. Light-curve variability provides a particularly severe constraint, failing nearly all strongly magnetized (magnetically arrested disk (MAD)) models and a large fraction of weakly magnetized models. A number of models fail only the variability constraints. We identify a promising cluster of these models, which are MAD and have inclination i ≤ 30°. They have accretion rate (5.2–9.5) × 10 −9 M ⊙ yr −1 , bolometric luminosity (6.8–9.2) × 10 35 erg s −1 , and outflow power (1.3–4.8) × 10 38 erg s −1 . We also find that all models with i ≥ 70° fail at least two constraints, as do all models with equal ion and electron temperature; exploratory, nonthermal model sets tend to have higher 2.2 μ m flux density; and the population of cold electrons is limited by X-ray constraints due to the risk of bremsstrahlung overproduction. Finally, we discuss physical and numerical limitations of the models, highlighting the possible importance of kinetic effects and duration of the simulations.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available May 1, 2023
  4. Abstract We present a framework for characterizing the spatiotemporal power spectrum of the variability expected from the horizon-scale emission structure around supermassive black holes, and we apply this framework to a library of general relativistic magnetohydrodynamic (GRMHD) simulations and associated general relativistic ray-traced images relevant for Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) observations of Sgr A*. We find that the variability power spectrum is generically a red-noise process in both the temporal and spatial dimensions, with the peak in power occurring on the longest timescales and largest spatial scales. When both the time-averaged source structure and the spatially integrated light-curve variability aremore »removed, the residual power spectrum exhibits a universal broken power-law behavior. On small spatial frequencies, the residual power spectrum rises as the square of the spatial frequency and is proportional to the variance in the centroid of emission. Beyond some peak in variability power, the residual power spectrum falls as that of the time-averaged source structure, which is similar across simulations; this behavior can be naturally explained if the variability arises from a multiplicative random field that has a steeper high-frequency power-law index than that of the time-averaged source structure. We briefly explore the ability of power spectral variability studies to constrain physical parameters relevant for the GRMHD simulations, which can be scaled to provide predictions for black holes in a range of systems in the optically thin regime. We present specific expectations for the behavior of the M87* and Sgr A* accretion flows as observed by the EHT.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available May 1, 2023
  5. Abstract The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) observed the compact radio source, Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), in the Galactic Center on 2017 April 5–11 in the 1.3 mm wavelength band. At the same time, interferometric array data from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array and the Submillimeter Array were collected, providing Sgr A* light curves simultaneous with the EHT observations. These data sets, complementing the EHT very long baseline interferometry, are characterized by a cadence and signal-to-noise ratio previously unattainable for Sgr A* at millimeter wavelengths, and they allow for the investigation of source variability on timescales as short as a minute.more »While most of the light curves correspond to a low variability state of Sgr A*, the April 11 observations follow an X-ray flare and exhibit strongly enhanced variability. All of the light curves are consistent with a red-noise process, with a power spectral density (PSD) slope measured to be between −2 and −3 on timescales between 1 minute and several hours. Our results indicate a steepening of the PSD slope for timescales shorter than 0.3 hr. The spectral energy distribution is flat at 220 GHz, and there are no time lags between the 213 and 229 GHz frequency bands, suggesting low optical depth for the event horizon scale source. We characterize Sgr A*’s variability, highlighting the different behavior observed just after the X-ray flare, and use Gaussian process modeling to extract a decorrelation timescale and a PSD slope. We also investigate the systematic calibration uncertainties by analyzing data from independent data reduction pipelines.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available May 1, 2023
  6. Abstract We present the first event-horizon-scale images and spatiotemporal analysis of Sgr A* taken with the Event Horizon Telescope in 2017 April at a wavelength of 1.3 mm. Imaging of Sgr A* has been conducted through surveys over a wide range of imaging assumptions using the classical CLEAN algorithm, regularized maximum likelihood methods, and a Bayesian posterior sampling method. Different prescriptions have been used to account for scattering effects by the interstellar medium toward the Galactic center. Mitigation of the rapid intraday variability that characterizes Sgr A* has been carried out through the addition of a “variability noise budget” inmore »the observed visibilities, facilitating the reconstruction of static full-track images. Our static reconstructions of Sgr A* can be clustered into four representative morphologies that correspond to ring images with three different azimuthal brightness distributions and a small cluster that contains diverse nonring morphologies. Based on our extensive analysis of the effects of sparse ( u , v )-coverage, source variability, and interstellar scattering, as well as studies of simulated visibility data, we conclude that the Event Horizon Telescope Sgr A* data show compelling evidence for an image that is dominated by a bright ring of emission with a ring diameter of ∼50 μ as, consistent with the expected “shadow” of a 4 × 10 6 M ⊙ black hole in the Galactic center located at a distance of 8 kpc.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available May 1, 2023
  7. Abstract Astrophysical black holes are expected to be described by the Kerr metric. This is the only stationary, vacuum, axisymmetric metric, without electromagnetic charge, that satisfies Einstein’s equations and does not have pathologies outside of the event horizon. We present new constraints on potential deviations from the Kerr prediction based on 2017 EHT observations of Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*). We calibrate the relationship between the geometrically defined black hole shadow and the observed size of the ring-like images using a library that includes both Kerr and non-Kerr simulations. We use the exquisite prior constraints on the mass-to-distance ratio for Sgrmore »A* to show that the observed image size is within ∼10% of the Kerr predictions. We use these bounds to constrain metrics that are parametrically different from Kerr, as well as the charges of several known spacetimes. To consider alternatives to the presence of an event horizon, we explore the possibility that Sgr A* is a compact object with a surface that either absorbs and thermally reemits incident radiation or partially reflects it. Using the observed image size and the broadband spectrum of Sgr A*, we conclude that a thermal surface can be ruled out and a fully reflective one is unlikely. We compare our results to the broader landscape of gravitational tests. Together with the bounds found for stellar-mass black holes and the M87 black hole, our observations provide further support that the external spacetimes of all black holes are described by the Kerr metric, independent of their mass.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available May 1, 2023