Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Spinning black hole leaves dent in space-time

11.01.2006


Work presented at American Astronomical Society meeting


Artist impression of the black hole binary system GRO J1655-4. (Rob Hynes 2001)



MIT scientists and colleagues have found a black hole that has chiseled a remarkably stable indentation in the fabric of space and time, like a dimple in one’s favorite spot on the sofa.

The finding may help scientists measure a black hole’s mass and how it spins, two long-sought measurements, by virtue of the extent of this indentation. Using NASA’s Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer, the team saw identical patterns in the X-ray light emitted near the black hole nine years apart, as captured in archived data from 1996 and in a new, unprecedented 550-hour observation from 2005.


Black hole regions are notoriously chaotic, generating light at a range of frequencies. Similarities seen nine years apart imply something very fundamental is producing a pair of observed frequencies, namely the warping of space and time predicted by Einstein but rarely seen in such detail.

Jeroen Homan of the Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research at MIT and colleagues from the University of Michigan, Amsterdam University and MIT are presenting this result this week at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, D.C.

"The fact that we found the exact same frequency of X-ray oscillations nine years later is likely no coincidence," said Homan. "The black hole is still singing the same tune. The oscillations are created by a groove hammered into space-time by the black hole. This phenomenon has been suspected for a while, but now we have strong evidence to support it."

A black hole forms when a very massive star runs out of fuel. Without the power to support its mass, the star implodes and the core collapses to a point of infinite density. Black holes have a theoretical border called an event horizon. Gravity is so strong within the event horizon that nothing, not even light, can escape its pull. Outside the event horizon, light can still escape.

Homan’s team -- which includes Jon Miller of the University of Michigan, Rudy Wijnands of Amsterdam University and Walter Lewin of MIT -- observed a region less than 100 miles from the event horizon of a black hole system called GRO J1655-40. Here, matter can orbit a black hole relatively stably, but occasionally it wobbles at certain precise frequencies. This is a direct result of how the black hole deforms space and time, a four-dimensional concept that Einstein called space-time.

The team observed GRO J1655-40 twice a day on average for eight months, for a total of more than 550 hours. Gas from a companion star was falling toward the black hole, heating to high temperatures and causing the entire region to glow in X-ray light.

During the long observation, the team uncovered fluctuations in the X-ray light, called quasi-periodic oscillations, or QPOs. These are thought to be from wobbling blobs of gas whipping around the black hole. The team observed QPOs at frequencies of 300 Hz and 450 Hz -- the same as those observed nine years ago. This was by far the longest observation of a black hole during an outburst. Previous observations have determined that GRO J1655-40 is about 6.5 times more massive than the sun.

"The precise frequencies are determined by the mass of the black hole and also by how fast it spins," said Miller. "Those measurements -- mass and spin -- have been difficult to obtain. Fortunately, we already have an estimate of the mass of this black hole. By understanding the behavior of matter so close to the black hole’s edge, we can now begin to determine the spin and thus, for the first time, completely describe the black hole."

Making this detection possible, the team said, was the long and intensive observing program with the Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer, a unique and durable observatory launched on Dec. 30, 1995.

"Had we not observed in this way, we would probably not have detected the pair of QPOs again," said Wijnands. "We need time. X-ray light from black holes typically shows many types of fluctuations. Often we see black holes brighten and weaken a few times per second, but the rate at which this happens changes from day to day. What is so special about the fluctuations that we observed is not only that they are much faster than the ordinary fluctuations -- a few hundred times per second! -- but also that the rate of the fluctuations is exactly the same as when we last saw them, nine years ago."

Elizabeth Thomson | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.mit.edu
http://tahti.mit.edu/blackhole

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Columbia engineers create artificial graphene in a nanofabricated semiconductor structure
13.12.2017 | Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science

nachricht Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation
12.12.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Quantenoptik

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation

MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.

Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...

Im Focus: Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

Detailed calculations show water cloaks are feasible with today's technology

Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...

Im Focus: Scientists channel graphene to understand filtration and ion transport into cells

Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.

To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...

Im Focus: Towards data storage at the single molecule level

The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...

Im Focus: Successful Mechanical Testing of Nanowires

With innovative experiments, researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrums Geesthacht and the Technical University Hamburg unravel why tiny metallic structures are extremely strong

Light-weight and simultaneously strong – porous metallic nanomaterials promise interesting applications as, for instance, for future aeroplanes with enhanced...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation

12.12.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Multi-year submarine-canyon study challenges textbook theories about turbidity currents

12.12.2017 | Earth Sciences

Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

12.12.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>