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Stringent axion constraints with Event Horizon Telescope polarimetric measurements of M87

Abstract

The hitherto unprecedented angular resolution of the Event Horizon Telescope has created exciting opportunities in the search for new physics. Recently, the linear polarization of radiation emitted near the supermassive black hole M87 was measured on four separate days, precisely enabling tests of the existence of a dense axion cloud produced by a spinning black hole. The presence of an axion cloud leads to a frequency-independent oscillation in the electric vector position angle of this linear polarization. For the nearly face-on M87, this oscillation in the electric vector position angle appears as a propagating wave along the photon ring. In this paper, we leverage the azimuthal distribution of electric vector position angle measured by the Event Horizon Telescope to study the axion–photon coupling. We propose a novel differential analysis procedure to reduce the astrophysical background, and derive stringent constraints on the existence of axions in the previously unexplored mass window of ~(10−21–10−20) eV.

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Fig. 1: Illustration of ipole.
Fig. 2: The relative phase δ(φ)/2π and amplitude \({{{\mathcal{A}}}}(\varphi )/{g}_{{\mathrm{a}}\upgamma }{a}_{\max }\) of the 〈χ(φ)〉 variation.
Fig. 3: Washout effect on the oscillation amplitude of the EVPA as a function of Sr normalized by 2πλc.
Fig. 4: The 95% credible level upper limit (green) on the axion–photon coupling, characterized by c ≡ 2πgfa, derived from the EHT polarimetric observations of SMBH M87.

Data availability

The polarimetric measurement data used in this paper are drawn from the publicly available publication of the EHT collaboration5. The data that support the plots within this paper and other findings of this study can be found at https://github.com/XueXiao-Physics/Axion_EHT_2021.

Code availability

The simulation codes used in this study are a modified version of the publicly available code ipole33,34 (https://github.com/moscibrodzka/ipole). The data analysis codes can be found at https://github.com/XueXiao-Physics/Axion_EHT_2021.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to N. Houston, S. Liebersbach and D. Psaltis for careful reading and useful comments on the manuscript, and C. Li, Y.-F. Yuan, S.-S. Zhao and Z. Zhou for useful discussions. Y.C. is supported by the China Postdoctoral Science Foundation under grants 2020T130661 and 2020M680688, by the International Postdoctoral Exchange Fellowship Program and by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) under grant 12047557. R.-S.L. is supported by the Max Planck Partner Group of the MPG and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), the NSFC under grant 11933007, the Research Program of Fundamental and Frontier Sciences of CAS under grant ZDBS-LY-SLH011 and the Shanghai Pilot Program for Basic Research—Chinese Academy of Science, Shanghai Branch (JCYJ-SHFY-2021-013). Y.M. is supported by the ERC Synergy Grant ‘BlackHoleCam: Imaging the Event Horizon of Black Holes’ under grant 610058. J.S. is supported by the NSFC under grants 12025507, 11690022 and 11947302, by the Strategic Priority Research Program and Key Research Program of Frontier Science of CAS under grants XDB21010200, XDB23010000 and ZDBS-LY-7003 and by the CAS project for Young Scientists in Basic Research YSBR-006. Q.Y. is supported by the NSFC under grants 11722328 and 11851305, by the Key Research Program of CAS under grant XDPB15 and by the Program for Innovative Talents and Entrepreneur in Jiangsu. Y.Z. is supported by the US Department of Energy under award DESC0009959. Y.C. would like to thank the SHAO and TDLI for their kind hospitality. Y.Z. would like to thank the ITP-CAS for their kind hospitality.

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Contributions

J.S., Q.Y. and Y.Z. initiated this study, Y.C., X.X. and Y.Z. developed the method, X.X., Y.L. and Y.C. analysed the data with important contributions from Y.M. and R.-S.L., Y.M. offered guidance on accretion flow models and Y.C. and Y.Z. wrote the initial draft, with contributions from Q.Y. and J.S. All authors have reviewed, discussed and commented on the modelling, data analysis and manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Yifan Chen, Yosuke Mizuno, Jing Shu, Qiang Yuan or Yue Zhao.

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Chen, Y., Liu, Y., Lu, RS. et al. Stringent axion constraints with Event Horizon Telescope polarimetric measurements of M87. Nat Astron 6, 592–598 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41550-022-01620-3

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