The mass of a black hole determines the size of its shadow

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The mass of a black hole determines the size of its shadow

Post by Ann » Wed Nov 29, 2023 5:20 am

Lisa Grossman of Science News wrote:

The measure of a black hole is what it does with its stars.

That’s one lesson astronomers are taking from the first-ever picture of a black hole, released on April 10 by an international telescope team (SN Online: 4/10/19). That image confirmed that the mass of the supermassive black hole in the center of galaxy M87 is close to what astronomers expected from how nearby stars orbit — solving a long-standing debate over how best to measure a black hole’s mass.

The black hole in M87, which is located about 55 million light-years from Earth, is the first black hole whose mass has been calculated by three precise methods: measuring the motion of stars, the swirl of surrounding gases and now, thanks to the Event Horizon Telescope imaging project, the diameter of the black hole’s shadow.
“Bigger black holes cast bigger shadows,” EHT team member Michael Johnson, an astrophysicist at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said April 12 at a talk at MIT. “Easy check, we can see whether one or the other of these [mass measuring methods] is correct.” The shadow of M87’s black hole yielded a diameter of 38 billion kilometers, which let astronomers calculate a mass of 6.5 billion suns — very close to the mass suggested by the motion of stars.
The black hole of the Milky Way has also been imaged by Event Horizon Telescope. We should expect the shadow of Sgr A*, the black hole of the Milky Way, to be much smaller than M87*, the black hole of M87. And indeed, it is:

Size comparison of the two black holes imaged by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) Collaboration: M87*, at the heart of the galaxy Messier 87, and Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), at the centre of the Milky Way. The image shows the scale of Sgr A* in comparison with both M87* and other elements of the Solar System such as the orbits of Pluto and Mercury. Also displayed is the Sun’s diameter and the current location of the Voyager 1 space probe, the furthest spacecraft from Earth. M87*, which lies 55 million light-years away, is one of the largest black holes known. While Sgr A*, 27 000 light-years away, has a mass roughly four million times the Sun’s mass, M87* is more than 1000 times more massive. Because of their relative distances from Earth, both black holes appear the same size in the sky. Credit: EHT collaboration (acknowledgment: Lia Medeiros, xkcd)

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Re: The mass of a black hole determines the size of its shadow

Post by Christian G. » Wed Nov 29, 2023 1:16 pm

Very interesting, thank you Ann for posting this.
"Both black holes appear the same size in the sky", yet ours is a stone's throw away compared to the other at 55 million light-years. M87* is such a BEAST!
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