In the cosmic heart of our Milky Way galaxy lies an enigmatic force that has captivated astronomers and physicists alike – Sagittarius A*, a supermassive black hole. Recent findings, illuminated by NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, have unveiled a compelling revelation: Sagittarius A* is not just spinning, but doing so at an astonishingly high speed, nearing the theoretical limit for such celestial entities.
Physicists led by Ruth A. Daly at Penn State have calculated the rotational speed of Sagittarius A* by examining X-rays and radio waves emanating from material outflows surrounding it. The results, published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, indicate a spin speed between 0.84 and 0.96, a range close to the maximum rotational speed a black hole can attain. This challenges previous assumptions and opens new avenues for understanding the intricate processes associated with these cosmic giants.
While planets and stars have solid surfaces that dictate their rotation, black holes, being regions of warped space-time, exhibit a different behavior. The rotation of a black hole is defined by its angular momentum, creating an ergosphere, an area where space-time becomes highly curved and twisted. This unique phenomenon, known as “frame dragging” or the “Lensing-Thirring effect,” has far-reaching consequences.
As black holes spin, they literally twist the fabric of space-time, causing a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing. This effect results in the bending or twisting of light’s trajectory as it travels close to a rotating black hole. The frame-dragging effect can lead to the formation of light rings and the creation of the black hole’s shadow, offering a visual spectacle of the gravitational influence of black holes on light.
Theoretical physicist Xavier Calmet emphasizes that the top speed of a black hole is determined by its feeding behavior, mass, and interactions with its surroundings. As matter falls into a black hole, it increases its spin, but there are limits to both angular momentum and mass. This might explain why Sagittarius A*, despite its immense mass equivalent to around 4.5 million suns, exhibits a high spin speed between 0.84 and 0.96.
Interestingly, Sagittarius A* challenges expectations, showcasing a high spin speed despite its massive size. In comparison, the supermassive black hole at the heart of galaxy M87, the first black hole ever to be photographed, spins at a slightly lower rate (between 0.89 and 0.91) despite its colossal mass equivalent to 6.5 billion suns. This highlights the complexity of black hole dynamics and the need for further exploration and understanding.
Discovering that Sagittarius A* is rotating at its maximum speed carries profound implications for our understanding of black hole formation and astrophysical processes. It prompts a reevaluation of existing models and theories, pushing the boundaries of our knowledge about these fascinating cosmic entities. The recent revelations about Sagittarius A* propel us into a deeper exploration of the mysteries that shroud black holes. As we delve into the complexities of their spin, we embark on a cosmic journey that challenges our perceptions and promises new insights into the fundamental nature of our universe.