Data from MAXI J1820+070 shows Einstein was right about how matter collapses into a black hole

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The physical origin of the various emissions fits MAXI J1820. We have split the disk emission (blue, solid curve) into components coming from outside (green dot – dotted) and inside (orange dotted) of the ISCO. The intra-ISCO emission provides the hot and small thermal component previously added ad hoc to vanishing ISCO stress accretion models. Credit: Monthly notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (2024). DOI: 10.1093/mnras/stae1160

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The physical origin of the various emissions fits MAXI J1820. We have split the disk emission (blue, solid curve) into components coming from outside (green dot – dotted) and inside (orange dotted) of the ISCO. The intra-ISCO emission provides the hot and small thermal component previously added ad hoc to vanishing ISCO stress accretion models. Credit: Monthly notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (2024). DOI: 10.1093/mnras/stae1160

A team of astrophysicists from the University of Oxford, Newcastle University and the Institute of Astronomy, all in Britain, working with a colleague from the University of Virginia in the US, have found evidence showing that Albert Einstein was right in his theory of General relativity predicted how matter that got too close to a black hole would fall into it.

For their research, published in the Monthly notices of the Royal Astronomical SocietyAndrew Mummery, Adam Ingram, Andrew Fabian and Shane Davis observed material as it fell into a black hole in the binary system MAXI J1820+070.

Previous research has shown that matter that gets too close to a black hole is torn apart due to the gravitational effect: atoms closer to the black hole are pulled harder than atoms further away. The material then forms a ring around the black hole that we call an accretion disk.

Einstein’s theory suggests that a boundary should exist between such an accretion disk and the black hole. When the accretion disk crosses that boundary, it collapses inward. Until now, it was unknown whether matter in the accretion disk falls in smoothly or via a sudden dive. General relativity suggests that the latter should be the case, but does not take into account how it might be possible to observe this.

The research team studied a binary system about 10,000 light-years away using the NuSTAR orbital X-ray telescope. The system, called MAXI J1820+070, has a black hole at its center, which became their focus. To learn more about the black hole, they used data from the telescope to model its behavior.

The simulations suggested it only worked as expected when the simulation showed matter crossing the inner boundary and plunging into the black hole – confirming predictions of general relativity. They also discovered that the reason light from the falling matter is observable is that it combines with light from the accretion disk.

More information:
Andrew Mummery et al., Continuum emission from the diving region of black hole disks, Monthly notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (2024). DOI: 10.1093/mnras/stae1160

Magazine information:
Monthly notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

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