Black Hole Polarimetry I. A Signature of Electromagnetic Energy Extraction

Andrew Chael, Alexandru Lupsasca, George N. Wong, Eliot Quataert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


In 1977, Blandford and Znajek showed that the electromagnetic field surrounding a rotating black hole can harvest its spin energy and use it to power a collimated astrophysical jet, such as the one launched from the center of the elliptical galaxy M87. Today, interferometric observations with the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) are delivering high-resolution, event-horizon-scale, polarimetric images of the supermassive black hole M87* at the jet launching point. These polarimetric images offer an unprecedented window into the electromagnetic field structure around a black hole. In this paper, we show that a simple polarimetric observable—the phase ∠β 2 of the second azimuthal Fourier mode of the linear polarization in a near-horizon image—depends on the sign of the electromagnetic energy flux and therefore provides a direct probe of black hole energy extraction. In Boyer-Lindquist coordinates, the Poynting flux for axisymmetric electromagnetic fields is proportional to the product B ϕ B r . The phase ∠β 2 likewise depends on the ratio B ϕ /B r , thereby enabling an observer to determine the direction of electromagnetic energy flow in the near-horizon environment experimentally. Data from the 2017 EHT observations of M87* are consistent with electromagnetic energy outflow. Currently envisioned multifrequency observations of M87* will achieve higher dynamic range and angular resolution, and hence deliver measurements of ∠β 2 closer to the event horizon as well as better constraints on Faraday rotation. Such observations will enable a definitive test for energy extraction from the black hole M87*.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number65
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 1 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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