Resolved magnetic-field structure and variability near the event horizon of Sagittarius A*

Science  04 Dec 2015:
Vol. 350, Issue 6265, pp. 1242-1245
DOI: 10.1126/science.aac7087

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Magnetic fields near the event horizon

Astronomers have long sought to examine a black hole's event horizon—the boundary around the black hole within which nothing can escape. Johnson et al. used sophisticated interferometry techniques to combine data from millimeter-wavelength telescopes around the world. They measured polarization just outside the event horizon of Sgr A*, the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way. The polarization is a signature of ordered magnetic fields generated in the accretion disk around the black hole. The results help to explain how black holes accrete gas and launch jets of material into their surroundings.

Science, this issue p. 1242


Near a black hole, differential rotation of a magnetized accretion disk is thought to produce an instability that amplifies weak magnetic fields, driving accretion and outflow. These magnetic fields would naturally give rise to the observed synchrotron emission in galaxy cores and to the formation of relativistic jets, but no observations to date have been able to resolve the expected horizon-scale magnetic-field structure. We report interferometric observations at 1.3-millimeter wavelength that spatially resolve the linearly polarized emission from the Galactic Center supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A*. We have found evidence for partially ordered magnetic fields near the event horizon, on scales of ~6 Schwarzschild radii, and we have detected and localized the intrahour variability associated with these fields.

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