Astronomers have discovered a surprisingly long-lived X-ray pulse from the debris of a shredded star as it inexorably spirals closer to a black hole’s mouth.

The pulse’s timing appears to be tied to the black hole’s spin and indicates that the black hole twirls at a speed at least 50% that of light.

MARK GARLICK/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Getty

Spin is one of the fundamental parameters that describe a black hole, like the stats on an ID card. It’s immensely hard to measure; we only have spin measurements for about 30 supermassive black holes, determined based on their X-ray spectra.

Reporting January 9th in Science and at the winter American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle, Dheeraj Pasham (MIT) and colleagues are adding another black hole to the list — but in an innovative way.

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