Light bending and X-ray echoes from behind a supermassive black hole

D. R. Wilkins, L. C. Gallo, E. Costantini, W. N. Brandt, R. D. Blandford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations

Abstract

The innermost regions of accretion disks around black holes are strongly irradiated by X-rays that are emitted from a highly variable, compact corona, in the immediate vicinity of the black hole1–3. The X-rays that are seen reflected from the disk4, and the time delays, as variations in the X-ray emission echo or ‘reverberate’ off the disk5,6, provide a view of the environment just outside the event horizon. I Zwicky 1 (I Zw 1) is a nearby narrow-line Seyfert 1 galaxy7,8. Previous studies of the reverberation of X-rays from its accretion disk revealed that the corona is composed of two components: an extended, slowly varying component extending over the surface of the inner accretion disk, and a collimated core, with luminosity fluctuations propagating upwards from its base, which dominates the more rapid variability9,10. Here we report observations of X-ray flares emitted from around the supermassive black hole in I Zw 1. X-ray reflection from the accretion disk is detected through a relativistically broadened iron K line and Compton hump in the X-ray emission spectrum. Analysis of the X-ray flares reveals short flashes of photons consistent with the re-emergence of emission from behind the black hole. The energy shifts of these photons identify their origins from different parts of the disk11,12. These are photons that reverberate off the far side of the disk, and are bent around the black hole and magnified by the strong gravitational field. Observing photons bent around the black hole confirms a key prediction of general relativity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)657-660
Number of pages4
JournalNature
Volume595
Issue number7869
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 29 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General

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