Images and photon ring signatures of thick disks around black holes

F. H. Vincent, S. E. Gralla, A. Lupsasca, M. Wielgus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations

Abstract

Context. High-frequency very-long-baseline interferometry (VLBI) observations can now resolve the event-horizon-scale emission from sources in the immediate vicinity of nearby supermassive black holes. Future space-VLBI observations will access highly lensed features of black hole images aphoton rings athat will provide particularly sharp probes of strong-field gravity. Aims. Focusing on the particular case of the supermassive black hole M 87∗, our goal is to explore a wide variety of accretion flows onto a Kerr black hole and to understand their corresponding images and visibilities. We are particularly interested in the visibility on baselines to space, which encodes the photon ring shape and whose measurement could provide a stringent test of the Kerr hypothesis. Methods. We developed a fully analytical model of stationary, axisymmetric accretion flows with a variable disk thickness and a matter four-velocity that can smoothly interpolate between purely azimuthal rotation and purely radial infall. To determine the observational appearance of such flows, we numerically integrated the general-relativistic radiative transfer equation in the Kerr spacetime, taking care to include the effects of thermal synchrotron emission and absorption. We then Fourier transformed the resulting images and analyzed their visibility amplitudes along the directions parallel and orthogonal to the black hole spin projected on the observer sky. Results. Our images generically display a wedding cake structure composed of discrete, narrow photon rings (na) stacked on top of broader primary emission that surrounds a central brightness depression of model-dependent size. At 230 GHz, the na 1 ring is always visible, but the na2 ring is sometimes suppressed due to absorption. At 345 GHz, the medium is optically thinner and the na 2 ring displays clear signatures in both the image and visibility domains. We also examine the thermal synchrotron emissivity in the equatorial plane and show that it exhibits an exponential dependence on the radius for the preferred M 87∗ parameters. Conclusions. The black hole shadow is a model-dependent phenomenon aeven for diffuse, optically thin sources aand should not be regarded as a generic prediction of general relativity. Observations at 345 GHz are promising for future space-VLBI measurements of the photon ring shape, since at this frequency the signal of the na2 ring persists despite the disk thickness and nonzero absorption featured in our models. Future work is needed to investigate whether this conclusion holds in a larger variety of reasonable models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberA170
JournalAstronomy and astrophysics
Volume667
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 1 2022

Keywords

  • Accretion, accretion disks
  • Black hole physics
  • Gravitation
  • Radiative transfer
  • Relativistic processes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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