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Observing black holes spin

Abstract

The spin of a black hole retains the memory of how the black hole grew, and can be a potent source of energy for powering relativistic jets. To understand the diagnostic power and astrophysical significance of black hole spin, however, we must first devise observational methods for measuring spin. Here, I describe the current state of black hole spin measurements, highlighting the progress made by X-ray astronomers, as well as the current excitement of gravitational wave- and radio astronomy-based techniques. Today’s spin measurements are already constraining models for the growth of supermassive black holes and giving new insights into the dynamics of stellar core collapse, as well as hinting at the physics of relativistic jet production. Future X-ray, radio and gravitational wave observatories will transform black hole spin into a precision tool for astrophysics and test fundamental theories of gravity.

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Fig. 1: Location of some special orbits in the equatorial plane of a Kerr black hole as a function of spin parameter.
Fig. 2: Cartoon of the inner regions of a geometrically thin accretion disk showing the transition in disk structure at the ISCO.
Fig. 3: Results on the spins of SMBHs in AGNs using the X-ray reflection method.
Fig. 4: Constraints on black hole spin for GW151226.

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Reynolds, C.S. Observing black holes spin. Nat Astron 3, 41–47 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41550-018-0665-z

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