X-ray polarization evidence for a 200-year-old flare of Sgr A*

Frédéric Marin, Eugene Churazov, Ildar Khabibullin, Riccardo Ferrazzoli, Laura Di Gesu, Thibault Barnouin, Alessandro Di Marco, Riccardo Middei, Alexey Vikhlinin, Enrico Costa, Paolo Soffitta, Fabio Muleri, Rashid Sunyaev, William Forman, Ralph Kraft, Stefano Bianchi, Immacolata Donnarumma, Pierre Olivier Petrucci, Teruaki Enoto, Iván AgudoLucio A. Antonelli, Matteo Bachetti, Luca Baldini, Wayne H. Baumgartner, Ronaldo Bellazzini, Stephen D. Bongiorno, Raffaella Bonino, Alessandro Brez, Niccolò Bucciantini, Fiamma Capitanio, Simone Castellano, Elisabetta Cavazzuti, Chien Ting Chen, Stefano Ciprini, Alessandra De Rosa, Ettore Del Monte, Niccolò Di Lalla, Victor Doroshenko, Michal Dovčiak, Steven R. Ehlert, Yuri Evangelista, Sergio Fabiani, Javier A. Garcia, Shuichi Gunji, Kiyoshi Hayashida, Jeremy Heyl, Adam Ingram, Wataru Iwakiri, Svetlana G. Jorstad, Philip Kaaret, Vladimir Karas, Takao Kitaguchi, Jeffery J. Kolodziejczak, Henric Krawczynski, Fabio La Monaca, Luca Latronico, Ioannis Liodakis, Simone Maldera, Alberto Manfreda, Andrea Marinucci, Alan P. Marscher, Herman L. Marshall, Francesco Massaro, Giorgio Matt, Ikuyuki Mitsuishi, Tsunefumi Mizuno, Michela Negro, C. Y. Ng, Stephen L. O’Dell, Nicola Omodei, Chiara Oppedisano, Alessandro Papitto, George G. Pavlov, Abel L. Peirson, Matteo Perri, Melissa Pesce-Rollins, Maura Pilia, Andrea Possenti, Juri Poutanen, Simonetta Puccetti, Brian D. Ramsey, John Rankin, Ajay Ratheesh, Oliver J. Roberts, Roger W. Romani, Carmelo Sgrò, Patrick Slane, Gloria Spandre, Doug Swartz, Toru Tamagawa, Fabrizio Tavecchio, Roberto Taverna, Yuzuru Tawara, Allyn F. Tennant, Nicholas E. Thomas, Francesco Tombesi, Alessio Trois, Sergey S. Tsygankov, Roberto Turolla, Jacco Vink, Martin C. Weisskopf, Kinwah Wu, Fei Xie, Silvia Zane

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Abstract

The centre of the Milky Way Galaxy hosts a black hole with a solar mass of about 4 million (Sagittarius A* (Sgr A)) that is very quiescent at present with a luminosity many orders of magnitude below those of active galactic nuclei1. Reflection of X-rays from Sgr A* by dense gas in the Galactic Centre region offers a means to study its past flaring activity on timescales of hundreds and thousands of years2. The shape of the X-ray continuum and the strong fluorescent iron line observed from giant molecular clouds in the vicinity of Sgr A* are consistent with the reflection scenario3–5. If this interpretation is correct, the reflected continuum emission should be polarized6. Here we report observations of polarized X-ray emission in the direction of the molecular clouds in the Galactic Centre using the Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer. We measure a polarization degree of 31% ± 11%, and a polarization angle of −48° ± 11°. The polarization angle is consistent with Sgr A* being the primary source of the emission, and the polarization degree implies that some 200 years ago, the X-ray luminosity of Sgr A* was briefly comparable to that of a Seyfert galaxy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)41-45
Number of pages5
JournalNature
Volume619
Issue number7968
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 6 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General

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