Observable shape of black hole photon rings

Samuel E. Gralla, Alexandru Lupsasca

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Motivated by the prospect of measuring a black hole photon ring, in previous work we explored the interferometric signature produced by a bright, narrow curve in the sky. Interferometric observations of such a curve measure its "projected position function"r·n^, where r parametrizes the curve and n^ denotes its unit normal vector. In this paper, we show by explicit construction that a curve can be fully reconstructed from its projected position, completing the argument that space interferometry can in principle determine the detailed photon ring shape. In practice, near-term observations may be limited to the visibility amplitude alone, which contains incomplete shape information: for convex curves, the amplitude only encodes the set of projected diameters (or "widths") of the shape. We explore the freedom in reconstructing a convex curve from its widths, giving insight into the shape information probed by technically plausible future astronomical measurements. Finally, we consider the Kerr "critical curve"in this framework and present some new results on its shape. We analytically show that the critical curve is an ellipse at small spin or inclination, while at extremal spin it becomes the convex hull of a Cartesian oval. We find a simple oval shape, the "phoval,"which reproduces the critical curve with high fidelity over the whole parameter range.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number124003
JournalPhysical Review D
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physics and Astronomy (miscellaneous)


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