WASHINGTON, Feb. 28 — 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 black hole with a mass two million times that of our sun, U.S. space agency NASA announced Wednesday.
The supermassive 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 appeared Wednesday 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.
"We can trace matter as it swirls into a black hole using X- rays emitted from regions very close to the black hole," said co-author of the study and NuSTAR principal investigator Fiona Harrison of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "The radiation we see is warped and distorted by the motions of particles and the black hole's incredibly strong gravity."
NuSTAR, launched in June 2012, is designed to detect the highest-energy X-ray light in great detail. It complements telescopes that observe lower-energy X-ray light, such as XMM- Newton and NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory. (PNA/Xinhua)