Black Holes Seen Spinning at the Limits Predicted by Einstein

Article written: 10 Jan , 2008
Updated: 26 Dec , 2015

The supermassive black holes that lurk at the hearts of the most massive galaxies might be spinning faster than astronomers ever thought. In fact, they might be spinning at the very limits predicted by Einstein’s theory of relativity. Perhaps it’s this extreme rotational speed that generates the energetic jets that blast out of the most massive and active galaxies.

Astronomers used NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory to study 9 giant galaxies that seem to contain rapidly spinning supermassive black holes. These galaxies have large disturbances in their gaseous atmosphere, so the researchers calculated that these black holes must be spinning at near their maximum rates.

“We think these monster black holes are spinning close to the limit set by Einstein’s theory of relatively, which means that they can drag material around them at close to the speed of light,” said Rodrigo Nemmen, a visiting graduate student at Penn State University.

According to Einstein, when a black hole rotates at extreme speeds, it can actually catch up the surrounding space time and make that rotate as well. This effect, linked with the inflowing streams of gas can produce rotating, tightly wound towers of powerful magnetic fields. These fields channel the energy and inflowing gas into powerful jets which blast away from the black hole at nearly the speed of light.

It’s believed that black holes can acquire these extreme rotational speeds when galaxies merge. Fresh material falling onto the black hole just boosts its speed higher and higher until it reaches the hard limits allowed by relativity.

And it’s this extreme rate of spin that forms the power source for the jets. With the number of powerful jets seen pouring out of many galaxies, it might be that most supermassive black holes are spinning at extreme rates; we just haven’t detected them yet.

Supermassive black holes can be very disruptive to their local environments. The jets pump enormous amounts of energy into their surroundings, heating up gas. Since stars can only form when there are large clouds of cold gas, these process of heating can stall star formation in the host galaxy.

Astronomers want to work out the relationship between supermassive black holes and the rates of star formation in the most massive galaxies in the Universe.

Original Source: Chandra News Release

13 Responses

  1. pantzov says

    i wouldn’t be surprised if they discovered that nearly all super massives rotate at or near their limits.

  2. Jon says

    I thought of this three days ago, before this was published, but I bet scientists have thought of it before.

    Einstien said that the only way an object with mass can go at the speed of light or faster, was if they had infinity mass, which black holes do, so the only thing with mass that can go at the speed of light is a black hole!

    In the future could we create black holes with a connected white hole to travel to areas faster? They are already trying to create bl;ack holes in labs.

  3. Danzio says

    Here is a thought . . .
    Gravity affects time.
    Intense gravity could drag (slow) the local time down.
    This may affect what we see.
    If the black hole’s local time is slowed down due to gravity and space-time drag then more would appear to happen, relative to our point of view, right?
    Would this mix look like the material spinning near the event horizon appears to be going faster than light?

    Hmmmmmmm . . .

  4. George says

    Black Holes DO NOT have “infinity mass”. The mass of any object in the universe or for that matter of the universe itself is finite. As an object accelerates toward the theoretical limit, its mass, as perceived by an external observer with respect to whom the obect is accelerating, tends towards infinity. Incidentally, the mass of the rest of he universe as percieved by a putative observer on the accelerated object also tends towards infinity. Obviously the greater the mass, the greater the inertia, consequently as we accelerate it takes progressively more energy to accelerate further. the amt. of energy necessary to accelerate _to_ c is infinite. Since the mass of the universe is finite, as is the sum of all energy within the universe, it is by definition impossible to accelerate to that “velocity”.

    Interesting to think about what happens to conservation of angular momentum for the matter making up the accecration disk of a singularity rotating close to the theoretical limit. What would happen if two such objects were to merge/colide?

  5. Tony says

    2 objects colliding at near light speed would break up into subatomic particles and emit some very energetic photons.

    Just as particles do in some of the super colliders.

  6. Bogie says

    I’ve heard this referred to as frame dragging. Thank you for the article. If it is “frame dragging” it is the first confirmation of frame dragging that I have come across and confirms the source where I heard of it a year of so ago.

  7. Gustavo Herrera-Marcano says

    Is it possible for the space surrounding a black hole to be sent to the future due to the space-time distortion effect?
    This proves Einstein Right

  8. Jason Kurant says

    I believe that the frame dragging effect was proven recently by the Gravity Probe B spacecraft. Here is the URL:

  9. Jason Kurant says

    Also, here is the NASA page for Gravity Probe B.

  10. Theo says

    Year ago I came up with a set of equations to prove some of the “mysterious questions of black holes, time, energy etc. Since I am just a amateur scientist I could never get “an authority” to review my theory. I enjoy reading about these cosmic questions when I have had equations to explain about 75% of them. Such is the distaste the amateur is viewed by “those in the know”! Remember even a blind pig finds an acorn occasionally!

  11. johnE says

    Theo can always send me his equations..i would value his work [email protected]

  12. Bo says

    What is time specifically referred to in the Scientific community?
    I always viewed time as something not definite, but more along the lines of perspective, more fluid. Does someone have a space and time for dummies they could provide a link to. =)

  13. Erick says

    Is it possible for a Black Hole to eat up an entire Galaxy? I have a theory… “If there is Galaxies that holds stars and what not.. Then shouldn’t there be Galaxies that hold other galaxies..?”

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