Supermassive Black Hole Spins at Nearly the Speed of Light

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New measurements show that the black hole at the center of galaxy NGC 1365 is spinning at close to the maximum possible rate. This suggests that it grew via 'ordered accretion' rather than by swallowing random blobs of gas and stars.
(image by NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Imagine a sphere more than 2 million miles across - eight times the distance from Earth to the Moon - spinning so fast that its surface is traveling at nearly the speed of light. Such an object exists: the supermassive black hole at the center of the spiral galaxy NGC 1365. Astronomers measured its jaw-dropping spin rate using new data from the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, and the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton X-ray satellites. 'This is the first time anyone has accurately measured the spin of a supermassive black hole,' said lead author Guido Risaliti of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) and INAF - Arcetri Observatory. Most importantly, the black hole's spin gives clues to its past and by extension the evolution of its host galaxy. 'The black hole's spin is a memory, a record, of the past history of the galaxy as a whole.'

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