NASA and the ESA have teamed up to measure how fast a black hole, that weighs two million times more than our sun, spins — and the result's mind boggling.
Using two X-ray space observatories, the space agencies have measured the spin of the black hole which lies at the centre of a galaxy called NGC 1365. Turns out that it rotates almost as fast as Einstein's theory of gravity will allow — at almost the speed of light. Fiona Harrison, one of the researchers involved in the project, explains:
"We can trace matter as it swirls into a black hole using X-rays emitted from regions very close to the black hole. The radiation we see is warped and distorted by the motions of particles and the black hole's incredibly strong gravity."
From there, they could work out the rate or rotation. It's a big step forward in the understanding of black hole science: the finding is actually a by-product of understanding how X-rays are warped in the presence of black holes. That understanding can also be applied to other, similar, celestial bodies, and help astronomers work out how other galaxies form and evolve. [NASA]