Photon ring autocorrelations

Shahar Hadar, Michael D. Johnson, Alexandru Lupsasca, George N. Wong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the presence of a black hole, light sources connect to observers along multiple paths. As a result, observed brightness fluctuations must be correlated across different times and positions in black hole images. Photons that execute multiple orbits around the black hole appear near a critical curve in the observer sky, giving rise to the photon ring. In this paper, a novel observable is proposed: the two-point correlation function of intensity fluctuations on the photon ring. This correlation function is analytically computed for a Kerr black hole surrounded by stochastic equatorial emission, with source statistics motivated by simulations of a turbulent accretion flow. It is shown that this two-point function exhibits a universal, self-similar structure consisting of multiple peaks of identical shape: while the profile of each peak encodes statistical properties of fluctuations in the source, the locations and heights of the peaks are determined purely by the black hole parameters. Measuring these peaks would demonstrate the existence of the photon ring without resolving its thickness, and would provide estimates of black hole mass and spin. With regular monitoring over sufficiently long timescales, this measurement could be possible via interferometric imaging with modest improvements to the Event Horizon Telescope.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104038
JournalPhysical Review D
Issue number10
StatePublished - 17 May 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Charles Gammie for helpful suggestions and corrections. S. H. and A. L. gratefully acknowledge support from the Jacob Goldfield Foundation. G. N. W. was supported by a Donald C. and F. Shirley Jones Fellowship. M. D. J. acknowledges support from the National Science Foundation (AST-1716536, AST-1935980) and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (GBMF-5278).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 American Physical Society.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physics and Astronomy (miscellaneous)


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