Black hole at center of the Milky Way resembles a football | Science & Technology

The supermassive black hole in the center of the Milky Way is spinning so quickly it is warping the spacetime surrounding it into a shape that can look like a football, according to a new study using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA). That football shape suggests the black hole is spinning at a substantial speed, which researchers estimated to be about 60% of its potential limit.

The work, led by Penn State Berks Professor of Physics Ruth Daly, was published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Astronomers call this giant black hole Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*). It is located about 26,000 light-years away from Earth in the center of the galaxy. To determine how quickly Sgr A* is spinning — one of its fundamental properties, along with mass — the researchers applied a method that uses X-ray and radio data to assess how material is flowing towards and away from the black hole. The method was developed and published by Daly in 2019 in The Astrophysical Journal.

“Our work may help settle the question of how fast our galaxy’s supermassive black hole is spinning,” Daly said. “Our results indicate that Sgr A* is spinning very rapidly, which is interesting and has far-reaching implications.”

The team found the angular velocity — the number of revolutions per second — of Sgr A*’s spin is about 60% of the maximum possible value, a limit set because material cannot travel faster than the speed of light.

Past estimations of Sgr A*’s speed have been made with different techniques and by other astronomers, with results ranging from no rotation at all to spinning at almost the maximum rate.

“This work, however, shows that this could change if the amount of material in the vicinity of Sgr A* increases,” Daly said.

As a black hole rotates, it pulls “spacetime” — the combination of time and the three dimensions of space — and nearby matter. The gravitational pull also…

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