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Journal Articles Astronomy and Astrophysics - A&A Year : 2024

Polarized signatures of orbiting hot spots: Special relativity impact and probe of spacetime curvature


Context. The Galactic Center supermassive black hole is well known to exhibit transient peaks of flux density on a daily basis across the spectrum. Recent infrared and millimeter observations have strengthened the case for the association between these flares and circular orbital motion in the vicinity of the event horizon. The strongly polarized synchrotron radiation associated with these events leads to specific observables called QU loops, that is, looping motion in the Stokes QU plane of linear polarization. These patterns have been observed by the Submillimeter Array, VLTI/GRAVITY, and ALMA.Aims. We want to deepen the understanding of the QU loops associated with orbiting hot spots. To this end, we computed such loops in Minkowski and Schwarzschild spacetimes in order to determine which aspects of the observed patterns are due to special- or general-relativistic phenomena.Methods. We considered a parcel of energized plasma in circular motion in Minkowski spacetime and in Keplerian orbit in the Schwarzschild spacetime. We computed, using the GYOTO ray-tracing code, the polarized radiative transfer associated with this orbiting hot spot and derived the evolution of the flux density, astrometry, and Stokes Q and U parameters.Results. We show that QU loops in Minkowski spacetime at low or moderate inclination i ≲ 45° (where i = 0° is a face-on view) share all the qualitative features of Schwarzschild QU loops. There exist QU loops for all setups considered (including for the face-on view and vertical magnetic field), there may be one or two QU loops per orbital period for a vertical magnetic field configuration, and there are always two QU loops in case of a toroidal magnetic field. The simplicity of Minkowski spacetime is a key asset for allowing us to provide analytical formulas that explain the details of this behavior. Moreover, we analyzed the flux variation of the hot spot and show that it is dictated either by the angular dependence of the radiative transfer coefficients or by relativistic beaming. In the former case, this can lead to extreme flux ratios, even at a moderate inclination. Finally, we highlight the increasing mirror asymmetry of the Schwarzschild QU track with increasing inclination and show that this behavior is a specific Schwarzschild feature caused by light bending.Conclusions. Although special-relativistic effects have not been extensively discussed in this context, they are a crucial part in generating the observed QU loops. However, general-relativistic light bending leads to a specific observable feature encoded in the asymmetry of the observed loops, and this feature might allow the spacetime curvature to be quantified.
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hal-04558439 , version 1 (24-04-2024)



F. H. Vincent, M. Wielgus, N. Aimar, T. Paumard, G. Perrin. Polarized signatures of orbiting hot spots: Special relativity impact and probe of spacetime curvature. Astronomy and Astrophysics - A&A, 2024, 684, pp.A194. ⟨10.1051/0004-6361/202348016⟩. ⟨hal-04558439⟩
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