The influence of gas dynamics on measuring the properties of the black hole in the center of the milky way with stellar orbits and pulsars

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Observations of stars and pulsars orbiting the black hole in the center of the Milky Way offer the potential of measuring not only the mass of the black hole but also its spin and quadrupole moment, thereby providing observational verification of the no-hair theorem. The relativistic effects that will allow us to measure these higher moments of the gravitational field, however, are very small and may be masked by drag forces that stars and pulsars experience orbiting within the hot, tenuous plasma that surrounds the black hole. The properties of this plasma at large distances from the central object have been measured using observations of the extended X-ray emission that surrounds the point source. At distances comparable to the black hole event horizon, the properties of the accretion flow have been constrained using observations of its long-wavelength emission and polarization, as well as of the size of the emitting region at 1.3mm. I use models of the plasma density and temperature at various distances from the black hole to investigate the effect of hydrodynamic drag forces on future measurements of the higher moments of its gravitational field. I find that hydrodynamic drag does not preclude measurements of the black hole spin and quadrupole moment using high-resolution observations of stars and pulsars that orbit within a few thousand gravitational radii from its horizon.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number130
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 10 2012



  • Galaxy: center
  • accretion
  • accretion disks
  • black hole physics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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