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  1. The horizon-scale images of black holes obtained with the Event Horizon Telescope have provided new probes of their metrics and tests of General Relativity. The images are characterized by a bright, near circular ring from the gravitationally lensed emission from the hot plasma and a deep central depression cast by the black hole. The metric tests rely on fact that the bright ring closely traces the boundary of the black hole shadow with a small displacement that has been quantified using simulations. In this paper we develop a self-consistent covariant analytic model of the accretion flow that spans a broadmore »range of plasma conditions and black-hole properties to explore the general validity of this result. We show that, for any physical model of the accretion flow, the ring always encompasses the outline of the shadow and is not displaced by it by more than half the ring width. This result is a consequence of conservation laws and basic thermodynamic considerations and does not depend on the microphysics of the plasma or the details of the numerical simulations. We also present a quantitative measurement of the bias between the bright ring and the shadow radius based on the analytical models.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available November 1, 2022
  2. The image of a supermassive black hole surrounded by an optically-thin, radiatively-inefficient accretion flow, like that observed with the Event Horizon Telescope, is characterized by a bright ring of emission surrounding the black-hole shadow. In the Kerr spacetime this bright ring, when narrow, closely traces the boundary of the shadow and can, with appropriate calibration, serve as its proxy. The present paper expands the validity of this statement by considering two particular spacetime geometries: a solution to the field equations of a modified gravity theory and another that parametrically deviates from Kerr but recovers the Kerr spacetime when its deviationmore »parameters vanish. A covariant, axisymmetric analytic model of the accretion flow based on conservation laws and spanning a broad range of plasma conditions is utilized to calculate synthetic non-Kerr black-hole images, which are then analysed and characterized. We find that in all spacetimes: (i) it is the gravitationally-lensed unstable photon orbit that plays the critical role in establishing the diameter of the rings observed in black-hole images, not the event horizon or the innermost stable circular orbit, (ii) bright rings in these images scale in size with, and encompass, the boundaries of the black-hole shadows, even when deviating significantly from Kerr, and (iii) uncertainties in the physical properties of the accreting plasma introduce subdominant corrections to the relation between the diameter of the image and the diameter of the black-hole shadow. These results provide theoretical justification for using black-hole images to probe and test the spacetimes of supermassive black holes.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 1, 2022
  3. Abstract Magnetic reconnection can power bright, rapid flares originating from the inner magnetosphere of accreting black holes. We conduct extremely high-resolution (5376 × 2304 × 2304 cells) general-relativistic magnetohydrodynamics simulations, capturing plasmoid-mediated reconnection in a 3D magnetically arrested disk for the first time. We show that an equatorial, plasmoid-unstable current sheet forms in a transient, nonaxisymmetric, low-density magnetosphere within the inner few Schwarzschild radii. Magnetic flux bundles escape from the event horizon through reconnection at the universal plasmoid-mediated rate in this current sheet. The reconnection feeds on the highly magnetized plasma in the jets and heats the plasma that endsmore »up trapped in flux bundles to temperatures proportional to the jet’s magnetization. The escaped flux bundles can complete a full orbit as low-density hot spots, consistent with Sgr A* observations by the GRAVITY interferometer. Reconnection near the horizon produces sufficiently energetic plasma to explain flares from accreting black holes, such as the TeV emission observed from M87. The drop in the mass accretion rate during the flare and the resulting low-density magnetosphere make it easier for very-high-energy photons produced by reconnection-accelerated particles to escape. The extreme-resolution results in a converged plasmoid-mediated reconnection rate that directly determines the timescales and properties of the flare.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available January 1, 2023
  4. ABSTRACT Sgr A* exhibits regular variability in its multiwavelength emission, including daily X-ray flares and roughly continuous near-infrared (NIR) flickering. The origin of this variability is still ambiguous since both inverse Compton and synchrotron emission are possible radiative mechanisms. The underlying particle distributions are also not well constrained, particularly the non-thermal contribution. In this work, we employ the GPU-accelerated general relativistic magnetohydrodynamics code H-AMR to perform a study of flare flux distributions, including the effect of particle acceleration for the first time in high-resolution 3D simulations of Sgr A*. For the particle acceleration, we use the general relativistic ray-tracing code bhoss tomore »perform the radiative transfer, assuming a hybrid thermal+non-thermal electron energy distribution. We extract ∼60 h light curves in the sub-millimetre, NIR and X-ray wavebands, and compare the power spectra and the cumulative flux distributions of the light curves to statistical descriptions for Sgr A* flares. Our results indicate that non-thermal populations of electrons arising from turbulence-driven reconnection in weakly magnetized accretion flows lead to moderate NIR and X-ray flares and reasonably describe the X-ray flux distribution while fulfilling multiwavelength flux constraints. These models exhibit high rms per cent amplitudes, $\gtrsim 150{{\ \rm per\ cent}}$ both in the NIR and the X-rays, with changes in the accretion rate driving the 230 GHz flux variability, in agreement with Sgr A* observations.« less
  5. 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 Arraymore »(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.« less
  6. Context. Realistic synthetic observations of theoretical source models are essential for our understanding of real observational data. In using synthetic data, one can verify the extent to which source parameters can be recovered and evaluate how various data corruption effects can be calibrated. These studies are the most important when proposing observations of new sources, in the characterization of the capabilities of new or upgraded instruments, and when verifying model-based theoretical predictions in a direct comparison with observational data. Aims. We present the SYnthetic Measurement creator for long Baseline Arrays ( SYMBA ), a novel synthetic data generation pipeline formore »Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) observations. SYMBA takes into account several realistic atmospheric, instrumental, and calibration effects. Methods. We used SYMBA to create synthetic observations for the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), a millimetre VLBI array, which has recently captured the first image of a black hole shadow. After testing SYMBA with simple source and corruption models, we study the importance of including all corruption and calibration effects, compared to the addition of thermal noise only. Using synthetic data based on two example general relativistic magnetohydrodynamics (GRMHD) model images of M 87, we performed case studies to assess the image quality that can be obtained with the current and future EHT array for different weather conditions. Results. Our synthetic observations show that the effects of atmospheric and instrumental corruptions on the measured visibilities are significant. Despite these effects, we demonstrate how the overall structure of our GRMHD source models can be recovered robustly with the EHT2017 array after performing calibration steps, which include fringe fitting, a priori amplitude and network calibration, and self-calibration. With the planned addition of new stations to the EHT array in the coming years, images could be reconstructed with higher angular resolution and dynamic range. In our case study, these improvements allowed for a distinction between a thermal and a non-thermal GRMHD model based on salient features in reconstructed images.« less