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Findings Could Put a New Spin on Black Holes

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The way that light gets distorted by the warped space-time around black holes soon could help scientists directly detect whether those monsters spin, researchers said.

These findings could shed light on the physics of black holes in more detail than earlier deemed possible.

Gravity is a force that leads bodies like planets and stars to pull not just on matter and light, but on space and time itself. If a massive body is rotating, it swirls the fabric of space-time around it, an effect known as frame-dragging that is even detectable around Earth. Although scientists have conjectured that the black holes such as the one suggested to exist at the center of our galaxy are spinning, no one has any direct evidence yet that they do so.

Black hole spinners

Although black holes absorb light that falls into them, light can escape from nearby black holes, such as rays given off by superhot matter just before it gets sucked into oblivion. According to Einstein's theory of general relativity, packets of light, or photons, can get twisted by the rotating space-time around spinning black holes, much as one might still feel a bit of a pull after stepping off a merry-go-round.

Computer simulations of spinning black holes now reveal just how they might distort photons. Future research to look for such twisted photons could thus uncover how fast black holes are spinning.

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