NASA, ESA Help Solve Riddle of Black Hole Spin

This is an artist’s conception of a supermassive black hole with millions to billions times the mass of the sun. Two X-ray space observatories, NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) and the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton, have teamed up to measure definitively, for the first time, the spin rate of a supermassive black hole.

The black hole lies at the dust- and gas-filled heart of a galaxy called NGC 1365, and it is spinning almost as fast as Einstein’s theory of gravity will allow. The findings, which appear in a new study in the journal Nature, resolve a long-standing debate about similar measurements in other black holes and will lead to a better understanding of how black holes and galaxies evolve.

The observations also are a powerful test of Einstein’s theory of general relativity, which says gravity can bend space-time, the fabric that shapes our universe, and the light that travels through it.

“These monsters … are formed as small seeds in the early universe and grow by swallowing stars and gas in their host galaxies, merging with other giant black holes when galaxies collide, or both,” said the study’s lead author, Guido Risaliti of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics.

For more on the study and black holes, see the NASA press release.

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