A massive black hole has been "weighed" with the greatest degree of precision ever. The black hole was found to possess a mass roughly 660 million times greater than our sun. Surrounding this body is a cloud of gas circling the massive object at a whopping 1.1 million miles per hour.
Galaxy NGC 1332 sits approximately 73 million light years from our own world. Like all major galaxies, this collection of stars contains a supermassive black hole at its center. These features grow through the accumulation of matter, including stars, planets, and vast amounts of dust.
Stars and planets accompanying them can orbit far from these supermassive black holes without ever being drawn in by their enormous gravitational pull.
"The black hole at the center of the Milky Way, which is the biggest one in our own galaxy, is many thousands of light years away from us. We're not going to get sucked in. The ubiquity of black holes is one indicator of the profound influence that they have on the formation of the galaxies in which they live," Andrew Baker of the physics and astronomy department at Rutgers University said.
Understanding how galaxies, as well as the black holes within them, form is one of the vital areas of astronomical research being carried out today. The two processes are interconnected, and to understand one, astronomers need to develop knowledge of the other. For instance, the ratio of masses of these central black holes to their host galaxies is a telling indicator of the makeup of these families of stars. Current understanding suggests the growths of both halves of the system influence the other.
Accurate measurements of the mass of central black holes are needed for calculations revealing the inner workings of these systems.
The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, a network of 66 radio telescopes, was used to make the unprecedented measurement. The research team examined emissions of carbon monoxide from cold gas orbiting the black hole, including measurements of the velocity of the matter.
Galaxy NGC 1332 is in the S0 family, a classification of galaxies between spirals (like our own Milky Way) and elliptical bodies. Viewing from Earth, astronomers see the body edge-on.
Analysis of NGC 1332 is detailed in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.