Sunday, 22 September, 2019


Star orbiting massive black hole lends support to Einstein's theory

Exploring planets orbiting nearby stars will be the next subject of the Astronomy Talk series Exploring planets orbiting nearby stars will be the next subject of the Astronomy Talk series
Kristine Garrett | 27 July, 2019, 11:52

Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity predicts that a star passing close to a supermassive black hole should exhibit an effect known as relativistic redshift.

The team, led by UCLA astronomer Andrea Ghez and with key analyses from Jessica Lu, an assistant professor of astronomy at Berkeley University, followed a star so close to the black hole that the light it emitted was influenced by the intense gravity of the black hole.

While the General Theory of Relativity has already passed many tests in comparatively weak gravitational fields, it was tested by another group for the first time past year under the extreme conditions surrounding the central black hole of the Milky Way - also with great success.

In a test of Einstein's theory of general relativity near the supermassive black hole at the center of our Milky Way Galaxy, an global group of astrophysicists has demonstrated that the theory holds up. She did say that "We can absolutely rule out Newton's law of gravity".

They found that the behaviour of the star's light as it escaped the extreme gravitational pull exerted by the black hole, with 4 million times the sun's mass, conformed to Einstein's theory's predictions.

However, Ghez notes that Einstein's theory is showing vulnerability as it can't fully explain the gravity inside the black hole.

Einstein's theory of general relativity dates back to 1915 and states the force of gravity arises from the curvature of space and time.

Einstein's theory of relativity survived another test.

"Ghez says: "(The findings are) a transformational change in our understanding about not only the existence of supermassive black holes but the physics and astrophysics of black holes". Among the stars that most interest her is S0-102, which has the shortest orbit, taking 11 1/2 years to complete a full orbit around the black hole.

Also, at closest approach, when it was traveling at 16 million miles per hour - almost 3 percent of the speed of light - the redshifts and blueshifts perfectly matched the predictions of special relativity.

Ghez's research team was able to see the co-mingling of space and time near the supermassive black hole. For more than two decades, the division has supported Ghez, along with several of the technical elements critical to the research team's discovery. "We're learning how gravity works".

"We're so excited and have been preparing for years to make these measurements", Ghez said. The researchers noticed a space time warp as the star approached the black hole. "It's easy to be overconfident and there are many ways to misinterpret the data, many ways that small errors can accumulate into significant mistakes, which is why we did not rush our analysis". Most of the other stars have an orbit that exceeds the average human lifespan. "That period where it passes through closest approach is concise but essential to measure".

The team collected data from a spectrograph at the university, as well at the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii. "We test this using observations of the Galactic center star S0-2", the researchers wrote.

This research, which was completed in the Fall of a year ago, published Thursday, July 25, 2019, in the journal Science.

"We detect the combination of special relativistic- and gravitational-redshift, quantified using a redshift parameter". It's unclear whether S0-2 is young or just masquerading as a young star, Ghez said.

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