# Publications

Inference is crucial in modern astronomical research, where hidden astrophysical features and patterns are often estimated from indirect and noisy measurements. Inferring the posterior of hidden features, conditioned on the observed measurements, is essential for understanding the uncertainty of results and downstream scientific interpretations. Traditional approaches for posterior estimation include sampling-based methods and variational inference. However, sampling-based methods are typically slow for high-dimensional inverse problems, while variational inference often lacks estimation accuracy. In this paper, we propose alpha-DPI, a deep learning framework that first learns an approximate posterior using alpha-divergence variational inference paired with a generative neural network, and then produces more accurate posterior samples through importance re-weighting of the network samples. It inherits strengths from both sampling and variational inference methods: it is fast, accurate, and scalable to high-dimensional problems. We apply our approach to two high-impact astronomical inference problems using real data: exoplanet astrometry and black hole feature extraction.

The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) collaboration has produced the first resolved images of M87*, the supermassive black hole at the centre of the elliptical galaxy M87. As both technology and analysis pipelines improve, it will soon become possible to produce spectral index maps of black hole accretion flows on event horizon scales. In this work, we predict spectral index maps of both M87* and Sgr A* by applying the general relativistic radiative transfer (GRRT) code {\sc ipole} to a suite of general relativistic magnetohydrodynamic (GRMHD) simulations. We analytically explore how the spectral index increases with increasing magnetic field strength, electron temperature, and optical depth. Consequently, spectral index maps grow more negative with increasing radius in almost all models, since all of these quantities tend to be maximized near the event horizon. Additionally, photon ring geodesics exhibit more positive spectral indices, since they sample the innermost regions of the accretion flow with the most extreme plasma conditions. Spectral index maps are sensitive to highly uncertain plasma heating prescriptions (the electron temperature and distribution function). However, if our understanding of these aspects of plasma physics can be tightened, even the spatially unresolved spectral index around 230 GHz can be used to discriminate between models. In particular, Standard and Normal Evolution (SANE) flows tend to exhibit more negative spectral indices than Magnetically Arrested Disk (MAD) flows due to differences in the characteristic magnetic field strength and temperature of emitting plasma.

The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) recently released the first horizon-scale images of the black hole in M87. Combined with other astronomical data, these images constrain the mass and spin of the hole as well as the accretion rate and magnetic flux trapped on the hole. An important question for the EHT is how well key parameters, such as trapped magnetic flux and the associated disk models, can be extracted from present and future EHT VLBI data products. The process of modeling visibilities and analyzing them is complicated by the fact that the data are sparsely sampled in the Fourier domain while most of the theory/simulation is constructed in the image domain. Here we propose a data-driven approach to analyze complex visibilities and closure quantities for radio interferometric data with neural networks. Using mock interferometric data, we show that our neural networks are able to infer the accretion state as either high magnetic flux (MAD) or low magnetic flux (SANE), suggesting that it is possible to perform parameter extraction directly in the visibility domain without image reconstruction. We have applied VLBInet to real M87 EHT data taken on four different days in 2017 (April 5, 6, 10, 11), and our neural networks give a score prediction 0.52, 0.4, 0.43, 0.76 for each day, with an average score 0.53, which shows no significant indication for the data to lean toward either the MAD or SANE state.

We present the first Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) observations of Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), the Galactic center source associated with a supermassive black hole. These observations were conducted in 2017 using a global interferometric array of eight telescopes operating at a wavelength of λ = 1.3 mm. The EHT data resolve a compact emission region with intrahour variability. A variety of imaging and modeling analyses all support an image that is dominated by a bright, thick ring with a diameter of 51.8 ± 2.3 μas (68% credible interval). The ring has modest azimuthal brightness asymmetry and a comparatively dim interior. Using a large suite of numerical simulations, we demonstrate that the EHT images of Sgr A* are consistent with the expected appearance of a Kerr black hole with mass ~4 × 10^{6} M_{⊙}, which is inferred to exist at this location based on previous infrared observations of individual stellar orbits, as well as maser proper-motion studies. Our model comparisons disfavor scenarios where the black hole is viewed at high inclination (i > 50°), as well as nonspinning black holes and those with retrograde accretion disks. Our results provide direct evidence for the presence of a supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, and for the first time we connect the predictions from dynamical measurements of stellar orbits on scales of 103-105 gravitational radii to event-horizon-scale images and variability. Furthermore, a comparison with the EHT results for the supermassive black hole M87* shows consistency with the predictions of general relativity spanning over three orders of magnitude in central mass.

We present Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) 1.3 mm measurements of the radio source located at the position of the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), collected during the 2017 April 5-11 campaign. The observations were carried out with eight facilities at six locations across the globe. Novel calibration methods are employed to account for Sgr A*'s flux variability. The majority of the 1.3 mm emission arises from horizon scales, where intrinsic structural source variability is detected on timescales of minutes to hours. The effects of interstellar scattering on the image and its variability are found to be subdominant to intrinsic source structure. The calibrated visibility amplitudes, particularly the locations of the visibility minima, are broadly consistent with a blurred ring with a diameter of ~50 μas, as determined in later works in this series. Contemporaneous multiwavelength monitoring of Sgr A* was performed at 22, 43, and 86 GHz and at near-infrared and X-ray wavelengths. Several X-ray flares from Sgr A* are detected by Chandra, one at low significance jointly with Swift on 2017 April 7 and the other at higher significance jointly with NuSTAR on 2017 April 11. The brighter April 11 flare is not observed simultaneously by the EHT but is followed by a significant increase in millimeter flux variability immediately after the X-ray outburst, indicating a likely connection in the emission physics near the event horizon. We compare Sgr A*'s broadband flux during the EHT campaign to its historical spectral energy distribution and find that both the quiescent emission and flare emission are consistent with its long-term behavior.

We present the first event-horizon-scale images and spatiotemporal analysis of Sgr A* taken with the Event Horizon Telescope in 2017 April at a wavelength of 1.3 mm. Imaging of Sgr A* has been conducted through surveys over a wide range of imaging assumptions using the classical CLEAN algorithm, regularized maximum likelihood methods, and a Bayesian posterior sampling method. Different prescriptions have been used to account for scattering effects by the interstellar medium toward the Galactic center. Mitigation of the rapid intraday variability that characterizes Sgr A* has been carried out through the addition of a "variability noise budget" in the observed visibilities, facilitating the reconstruction of static full-track images. Our static reconstructions of Sgr A* can be clustered into four representative morphologies that correspond to ring images with three different azimuthal brightness distributions and a small cluster that contains diverse nonring morphologies. Based on our extensive analysis of the effects of sparse (u, v)-coverage, source variability, and interstellar scattering, as well as studies of simulated visibility data, we conclude that the Event Horizon Telescope Sgr A* data show compelling evidence for an image that is dominated by a bright ring of emission with a ring diameter of ~50 μas, consistent with the expected "shadow" of a 4 × 10^{6} M_{ ⊙} black hole in the Galactic center located at a distance of 8 kpc.

In this paper we quantify the temporal variability and image morphology of the horizon-scale emission from Sgr A*, as observed by the EHT in 2017 April at a wavelength of 1.3 mm. We find that the Sgr A* data exhibit variability that exceeds what can be explained by the uncertainties in the data or by the effects of interstellar scattering. The magnitude of this variability can be a substantial fraction of the correlated flux density, reaching ~100% on some baselines. Through an exploration of simple geometric source models, we demonstrate that ring-like morphologies provide better fits to the Sgr A* data than do other morphologies with comparable complexity. We develop two strategies for fitting static geometric ring models to the time-variable Sgr A* data; one strategy fits models to short segments of data over which the source is static and averages these independent fits, while the other fits models to the full data set using a parametric model for the structural variability power spectrum around the average source structure. Both geometric modeling and image-domain feature extraction techniques determine the ring diameter to be 51.8 ± 2.3 μas (68% credible intervals), with the ring thickness constrained to have an FWHM between ~30% and 50% of the ring diameter. To bring the diameter measurements to a common physical scale, we calibrate them using synthetic data generated from GRMHD simulations. This calibration constrains the angular size of the gravitational radius to be ${4.8}_{-0.7}^{+1.4}$ μas, which we combine with an independent distance measurement from maser parallaxes to determine the mass of Sgr A* to be ${4.0}_{-0.6}^{+1.1}\times {10}^{6}$ M ⊙.

In this paper we provide a first physical interpretation for the Event Horizon Telescope's (EHT) 2017 observations of Sgr A*. Our main approach is to compare resolved EHT data at 230 GHz and unresolved non-EHT observations from radio to X-ray wavelengths to predictions from a library of models based on time-dependent general relativistic magnetohydrodynamics simulations, including aligned, tilted, and stellar-wind-fed simulations; radiative transfer is performed assuming both thermal and nonthermal electron distribution functions. We test the models against 11 constraints drawn from EHT 230 GHz data and observations at 86 GHz, 2.2 μm, and in the X-ray. All models fail at least one constraint. Light-curve variability provides a particularly severe constraint, failing nearly all strongly magnetized (magnetically arrested disk (MAD)) models and a large fraction of weakly magnetized models. A number of models fail only the variability constraints. We identify a promising cluster of these models, which are MAD and have inclination i ≤ 30°. They have accretion rate (5.2-9.5) × 10-9 M ⊙ yr-1, bolometric luminosity (6.8-9.2) × 1035 erg s-1, and outflow power (1.3-4.8) × 1038 erg s-1. We also find that all models with i ≥ 70° fail at least two constraints, as do all models with equal ion and electron temperature; exploratory, nonthermal model sets tend to have higher 2.2 μm flux density; and the population of cold electrons is limited by X-ray constraints due to the risk of bremsstrahlung overproduction. Finally, we discuss physical and numerical limitations of the models, highlighting the possible importance of kinetic effects and duration of the simulations.

Astrophysical black holes are expected to be described by the Kerr metric. This is the only stationary, vacuum, axisymmetric metric, without electromagnetic charge, that satisfies Einstein's equations and does not have pathologies outside of the event horizon. We present new constraints on potential deviations from the Kerr prediction based on 2017 EHT observations of Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*). We calibrate the relationship between the geometrically defined black hole shadow and the observed size of the ring-like images using a library that includes both Kerr and non-Kerr simulations. We use the exquisite prior constraints on the mass-to-distance ratio for Sgr A* to show that the observed image size is within ~10% of the Kerr predictions. We use these bounds to constrain metrics that are parametrically different from Kerr, as well as the charges of several known spacetimes. To consider alternatives to the presence of an event horizon, we explore the possibility that Sgr A* is a compact object with a surface that either absorbs and thermally reemits incident radiation or partially reflects it. Using the observed image size and the broadband spectrum of Sgr A*, we conclude that a thermal surface can be ruled out and a fully reflective one is unlikely. We compare our results to the broader landscape of gravitational tests. Together with the bounds found for stellar-mass black holes and the M87 black hole, our observations provide further support that the external spacetimes of all black holes are described by the Kerr metric, independent of their mass.

The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) observed the compact radio source, Sagittarius A* (Sgr A*), in the Galactic Center on 2017 April 5-11 in the 1.3 mm wavelength band. At the same time, interferometric array data from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array and the Submillimeter Array were collected, providing Sgr A* light curves simultaneous with the EHT observations. These data sets, complementing the EHT very long baseline interferometry, are characterized by a cadence and signal-to-noise ratio previously unattainable for Sgr A* at millimeter wavelengths, and they allow for the investigation of source variability on timescales as short as a minute. While most of the light curves correspond to a low variability state of Sgr A*, the April 11 observations follow an X-ray flare and exhibit strongly enhanced variability. All of the light curves are consistent with a red-noise process, with a power spectral density (PSD) slope measured to be between -2 and -3 on timescales between 1 minute and several hours. Our results indicate a steepening of the PSD slope for timescales shorter than 0.3 hr. The spectral energy distribution is flat at 220 GHz, and there are no time lags between the 213 and 229 GHz frequency bands, suggesting low optical depth for the event horizon scale source. We characterize Sgr A*'s variability, highlighting the different behavior observed just after the X-ray flare, and use Gaussian process modeling to extract a decorrelation timescale and a PSD slope. We also investigate the systematic calibration uncertainties by analyzing data from independent data reduction pipelines.

We present a framework for characterizing the spatiotemporal power spectrum of the variability expected from the horizon-scale emission structure around supermassive black holes, and we apply this framework to a library of general relativistic magnetohydrodynamic (GRMHD) simulations and associated general relativistic ray-traced images relevant for Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) observations of Sgr A*. We find that the variability power spectrum is generically a red-noise process in both the temporal and spatial dimensions, with the peak in power occurring on the longest timescales and largest spatial scales. When both the time-averaged source structure and the spatially integrated light-curve variability are removed, the residual power spectrum exhibits a universal broken power-law behavior. On small spatial frequencies, the residual power spectrum rises as the square of the spatial frequency and is proportional to the variance in the centroid of emission. Beyond some peak in variability power, the residual power spectrum falls as that of the time-averaged source structure, which is similar across simulations; this behavior can be naturally explained if the variability arises from a multiplicative random field that has a steeper high-frequency power-law index than that of the time-averaged source structure. We briefly explore the ability of power spectral variability studies to constrain physical parameters relevant for the GRMHD simulations, which can be scaled to provide predictions for black holes in a range of systems in the optically thin regime. We present specific expectations for the behavior of the M87* and Sgr A* accretion flows as observed by the EHT.

Aims: M 87 has been the target for multiple observations across the entire electromagnetic spectrum. Among these, very large baseline interferometry (VLBI) observations provide unique details of the collimation profile of the jet down to several gravitational radii. We aim to model the observed broad-band spectrum of M 87 from the radio to the near-IR regime and at the same time, fit the jet structure as observed with global millimeter-VLBI at 86 GHz.

Methods: We used general relativistic magnetohydrodynamics and simulated the accretion of the magnetised plasma onto Kerr black holes in 3D. The radiative signatures of these simulations were computed taking different electron distribution functions into account, and a detailed parameter survey was performed in order to match the observations.

Results: The results of our simulations show that magnetically arrested disks around fast-spinning black holes (a⋆ ≥ 0.5) together with a mixture of thermal and non-thermal particle distributions are able to simultaneously model the broad-band spectrum and the innermost jet structure of M 87.