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Distant Black Hole Spin DetectedBlack holes can be defined by two distinct characteristics – mass and spin. The mass of a black hole is relatively easy to determine compared with their spin. Astronomers have spent the last decade developing different methods to accurately measure the spin of very distant black holes. Currently the method used to calculate spin is a lengthy process, involving several steps; all of which rely on the previous steps. Super-massive black holes pull in substantial amounts of gas, yielding extremely luminous quasars (quasi-stellar radio sources) like RX J1131-1231 seen here. A team from the University of Michigan Ann Arbor discovered by using a method called gravitational lensing; they could measure the x-ray data and determine how fast the black hole was spinning. Gravitational lensing is a technique first predicted by Einstein and describes how an intervening celestial body acts as a cosmic magnifying glass, bending and distorting light from a distant black hole. In the image we can see a colored ring with four bright pink (Chandra x-ray data) dots – this is four separate images of the same quasar. Also there in a reddish-orange (optical data from Hubble) dot in the center and this is an elliptical galaxy in the foreground that is actually acting as the gravitational lens. This gravitational lens provided very detailed information, allowing astronomers to accurately determine how fast RX J1131’s black hole was spinning. X-rays are produced with a super-heated, swirling disk of gas and dust surrounding a black hole (accretion disk) creates a corona (or multi-million degree cloud). X-rays are reflected off the disk’s corona and are distorted by the strong gravitational force of the black hole. These forces cause measurable changes in the x-ray spectrum; the closer the inner disk is to the black hole, the larger the change will be. When a black hole spins, it drags along the space around it; matter orbits a spinning black hole more closely than a non-spinning black hole. The x-rays observed around RX J1131 originate in an area of the disk approximately three times the radius of the event horizon – in order to maintain such a close orbit and not fall victim to the gravitational forces, the black hole must be spinning very rapidly. So why is it important to know how fast a black hole spins? This measurement is vital to understanding black hole growth and development. If a black hole grows via mergers and collisions, material will accrete in a steady manner, forming a stable accretion disk and having a very rapid spin. However, if a black hole gains mass by several small accretions, they pull in matter from several different directions and spin more slowly. RX J1131 was determined to spin at half the speed of light! Talk about fast! The rate of spin combined with a distance of six billion light-years, it is safe to say this black hole formed via mergers and collisions. Being able to study and determine the rate of spin for distant black holes also allows astronomers to determine if the black hole evolves at the same rate as its host galaxy. Calculating the spin of RX J1131 is a HUGE discovery as it is the most distant black hole spin ever determined. Previously, spins of black holes 2.5 billion and 4.7 billion light-years away were measured. -ALTImage Credit & Source: NASA/Chandra/Hubble View high resolution

Distant Black Hole Spin Detected

Black holes can be defined by two distinct characteristics – mass and spin. The mass of a black hole is relatively easy to determine compared with their spin. Astronomers have spent the last decade developing different methods to accurately measure the spin of very distant black holes. Currently the method used to calculate spin is a lengthy process, involving several steps; all of which rely on the previous steps. 

Super-massive black holes pull in substantial amounts of gas, yielding extremely luminous quasars (quasi-stellar radio sources) like RX J1131-1231 seen here. A team from the University of Michigan Ann Arbor discovered by using a method called gravitational lensing; they could measure the x-ray data and determine how fast the black hole was spinning. Gravitational lensing is a technique first predicted by Einstein and describes how an intervening celestial body acts as a cosmic magnifying glass, bending and distorting light from a distant black hole. 

In the image we can see a colored ring with four bright pink (Chandra x-ray data) dots – this is four separate images of the same quasar. Also there in a reddish-orange (optical data from Hubble) dot in the center and this is an elliptical galaxy in the foreground that is actually acting as the gravitational lens. This gravitational lens provided very detailed information, allowing astronomers to accurately determine how fast RX J1131’s black hole was spinning. 

X-rays are produced with a super-heated, swirling disk of gas and dust surrounding a black hole (accretion disk) creates a corona (or multi-million degree cloud). X-rays are reflected off the disk’s corona and are distorted by the strong gravitational force of the black hole. These forces cause measurable changes in the x-ray spectrum; the closer the inner disk is to the black hole, the larger the change will be. When a black hole spins, it drags along the space around it; matter orbits a spinning black hole more closely than a non-spinning black hole. The x-rays observed around RX J1131 originate in an area of the disk approximately three times the radius of the event horizon – in order to maintain such a close orbit and not fall victim to the gravitational forces, the black hole must be spinning very rapidly. 

So why is it important to know how fast a black hole spins? This measurement is vital to understanding black hole growth and development. If a black hole grows via mergers and collisions, material will accrete in a steady manner, forming a stable accretion disk and having a very rapid spin. However, if a black hole gains mass by several small accretions, they pull in matter from several different directions and spin more slowly. RX J1131 was determined to spin at half the speed of light! Talk about fast! The rate of spin combined with a distance of six billion light-years, it is safe to say this black hole formed via mergers and collisions. 
Being able to study and determine the rate of spin for distant black holes also allows astronomers to determine if the black hole evolves at the same rate as its host galaxy. Calculating the spin of RX J1131 is a HUGE discovery as it is the most distant black hole spin ever determined. Previously, spins of black holes 2.5 billion and 4.7 billion light-years away were measured. 

-ALT

Image Credit & Source: NASA/Chandra/Hubble

(Source: facebook.com)

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