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  1. Abstract Inference is crucial in modern astronomical research, where hidden astrophysical features and patterns are often estimated from indirect and noisy measurements. Inferring the posterior of hidden features, conditioned on the observed measurements, is essential for understanding the uncertainty of results and downstream scientific interpretations. Traditional approaches for posterior estimation include sampling-based methods and variational inference (VI). However, sampling-based methods are typically slow for high-dimensional inverse problems, while VI often lacks estimation accuracy. In this paper, we propose α -deep probabilistic inference, a deep learning framework that first learns an approximate posterior using α -divergence VI paired with a generativemore »neural network, and then produces more accurate posterior samples through importance reweighting of the network samples. It inherits strengths from both sampling and VI methods: it is fast, accurate, and more scalable to high-dimensional problems than conventional sampling-based approaches. We apply our approach to two high-impact astronomical inference problems using real data: exoplanet astrometry and black hole feature extraction.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available June 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 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
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. 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 comparativelymore »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.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available May 1, 2023
  8. Abstract We present Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) 1.3 mm measurements of the radio source located at the position of the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), collected during the 2017 April 5–11 campaign. The observations were carried out with eight facilities at six locations across the globe. Novel calibration methods are employed to account for Sgr A*'s flux variability. The majority of the 1.3 mm emission arises from horizon scales, where intrinsic structural source variability is detected on timescales of minutes to hours. The effects of interstellar scattering on the image and its variability are found to be subdominantmore »to intrinsic source structure. The calibrated visibility amplitudes, particularly the locations of the visibility minima, are broadly consistent with a blurred ring with a diameter of ∼50 μ as, as determined in later works in this series. Contemporaneous multiwavelength monitoring of Sgr A* was performed at 22, 43, and 86 GHz and at near-infrared and X-ray wavelengths. Several X-ray flares from Sgr A* are detected by Chandra, one at low significance jointly with Swift on 2017 April 7 and the other at higher significance jointly with NuSTAR on 2017 April 11. The brighter April 11 flare is not observed simultaneously by the EHT but is followed by a significant increase in millimeter flux variability immediately after the X-ray outburst, indicating a likely connection in the emission physics near the event horizon. We compare Sgr A*’s broadband flux during the EHT campaign to its historical spectral energy distribution and find that both the quiescent emission and flare emission are consistent with its long-term behavior.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available May 1, 2023
  9. Abstract In this paper we quantify the temporal variability and image morphology of the horizon-scale emission from Sgr A*, as observed by the EHT in 2017 April at a wavelength of 1.3 mm. We find that the Sgr A* data exhibit variability that exceeds what can be explained by the uncertainties in the data or by the effects of interstellar scattering. The magnitude of this variability can be a substantial fraction of the correlated flux density, reaching ∼100% on some baselines. Through an exploration of simple geometric source models, we demonstrate that ring-like morphologies provide better fits to the Sgrmore »A* data than do other morphologies with comparable complexity. We develop two strategies for fitting static geometric ring models to the time-variable Sgr A* data; one strategy fits models to short segments of data over which the source is static and averages these independent fits, while the other fits models to the full data set using a parametric model for the structural variability power spectrum around the average source structure. Both geometric modeling and image-domain feature extraction techniques determine the ring diameter to be 51.8 ± 2.3 μ as (68% credible intervals), with the ring thickness constrained to have an FWHM between ∼30% and 50% of the ring diameter. To bring the diameter measurements to a common physical scale, we calibrate them using synthetic data generated from GRMHD simulations. This calibration constrains the angular size of the gravitational radius to be 4.8 − 0.7 + 1.4 μ as, which we combine with an independent distance measurement from maser parallaxes to determine the mass of Sgr A* to be 4.0 − 0.6 + 1.1 × 10 6 M ⊙ .« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available May 1, 2023
  10. 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
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available April 1, 2023