Computer Finds Massive Black Hole in Nearby Galaxy

June 9, 2009
Computer Finds Massive Black Hole in Nearby Galaxy
The Lonestar supercomputer is a resource of the University's Texas Advanced Computing Center. Credit: TACC/UT-Austin

Astronomers Karl Gebhardt of The University of Texas at Austin and Jens Thomas of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics have used new computer modeling techniques to discover that the black hole at the heart of M87, one the largest nearby giant galaxies, is two to three times more massive than previously thought.

Weighing in at 6.4 billion times the Sun's mass, it is the most massive black hole yet measured with a robust technique, and suggests that the accepted black hole masses in nearby large galaxies may be off by similar amounts. This has consequences for theories of how galaxies form and grow, and might even solve a long-standing astronomical paradox.

Gebhardt is presenting these results this week at the 214th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Pasadena, Calif. They will be published later this summer in The Astrophysical Journal, in a paper by Gebhardt and Thomas.

To try to understand how galaxies form and grow, astronomers start with basic census information about today's galaxies. What are they made of? How big are they? How much do they weigh? Astronomers measure this last category, galaxy mass, by clocking the speed of stars orbiting within the galaxy.

Studies of the total mass are important, Thomas said, but "the crucial point is to determine whether the mass is in the black hole, the stars, or the dark halo. You have to run a sophisticated model to be able to discover which is which. The more components you have, the more complicated the model is."

To model M87, Gebhardt and Thomas used one of the world's most powerful supercomputers, the Lonestar system at The University of Texas at Austin's Texas Advanced Computing Center. Lonestar is a Dell Linux cluster with 5,840 processing cores and can perform 62 trillion floating-point operations per second. (Today's top-of-the-line laptop computer has two cores and can perform up to 10 billion floating-point operations per second.)

Gebhardt and Jens' model of M87 was more complicated than previous models of the galaxy, because in addition to modeling its stars and black hole, it takes into account the galaxy's "dark halo," a spherical region surrounding a galaxy that extends beyond its main visible structure, containing the galaxy's mysterious "dark matter."

"In the past, we have always considered the dark halo to be significant, but we did not have the computing resources to explore it as well," Gebhardt said. "We were only able to use stars and before. Toss in the dark halo, it becomes too computationally expensive. You have to go to supercomputers."

The Lonestar result was a mass for M87's black hole several times what previous models have found.

"We did not expect it at all," Gebhardt said. He and Jens simply wanted to test their model on "the most important galaxy out there," he said.

Extremely massive and conveniently nearby (in astronomical terms), M87 was one of the first galaxies suggested to harbor a central black hole nearly three decades ago. It also has an active jet shooting light out the galaxy's core as matter swirls closer to the black hole, allowing astronomers to study the process by which black holes attract matter. All of these factors make M87 the "the anchor for supermassive black hole studies," Gebhardt said.

These new results for M87, together with hints from other recent studies and his own recent telescope observations (publications in preparation), lead him to suspect that all black hole masses for the most massive galaxies are underestimated.

That conclusion "is important for how black holes relate to galaxies," Thomas said. "If you change the mass of the black hole, you change how the black hole relates to the galaxy."

There is a tight relation between the galaxy and its black hole which had allowed researchers to probe the physics of how galaxies grow over cosmic time. Increasing the black hole masses in the most massive galaxies will cause this relation to be re-evaluated.

Higher masses for black holes in nearby galaxies also could solve a paradox concerning the masses of quasars, which are active black holes at the centers of extremely distant galaxies, seen at a much earlier cosmic epoch.

"There is a long-standing problem in that quasar black hole masses were very large - 10 billion solar masses," Gebhardt said. "But in local galaxies, we never saw black holes that massive, not nearly. The suspicion was before that the quasar masses were wrong," he said. But "if we increase the mass of M87 two or three times, the problem almost goes away."

Today's conclusions are model-based, but Gebhardt also has made new telescope observations of M87 and other using new powerful instruments on the Gemini North Telescope and the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope. He said these data, which will be submitted for publication soon, support the current model-based conclusions about black hole mass.

For future telescope observations of galactic dark haloes, Gebhardt notes that a relatively new instrument at The University of Texas at Austin's McDonald Observatory is perfect.

"If you need to study the halo to get the black hole mass, there's no better instrument than VIRUS-P," he said. The instrument is a spectrograph. It separates the light from astronomical objects into its component wavelengths, creating a signature that can be read to find out an object's distance, speed, motion, temperature and more.

Source: University of Texas

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not rated yet Jun 09, 2009
Looks like some more 'missing mass' has turned up...

Um, never mind the quasars, how does this upgrade affect those calculations of 'Dark Matter' and possible 'Modified Newtonian Dynamics' ??
5 / 5 (1) Jun 09, 2009
Nik - my thoughts exactly. You double and triple the size of the "black hole" and you have to reduce the other stuff accordingly.

Funny how, not long ago so many people were saying that we already "know" the mass of nearby galaxies, their black holes etc etc etc and now we quickly do a little adjustment to the central mass and continue telling anybody that disagrees that we "know" the size of the black holes in nearby galaxies.

What we "know" is a lot less than what we think we "know", even about our near galactic neighbours.
not rated yet Jun 09, 2009
"Computer Finds Massive Black Hole in Nearby Galaxy"

Where is the scientist??
not rated yet Jun 10, 2009
writing the program...
not rated yet Jun 10, 2009
this is very exciting! iv'e been very uncomfortable with the idea of dark matter(or dark energy for that matter...ouch..sorry about the pun!)perhaps,as Nik pointed out, this could lead to a reevaluation of the assumptions that lead to it.
1 / 5 (1) Jun 18, 2009
@laserdaveb Agreed! When you consider the fact that distance measurements of cepheid variables has an error range of 10-20% then you have to also wonder about articles that "pin" the age of the universe at X billion years, period. It's of crucial importance to know what one doesn't know.
1 / 5 (1) Jun 25, 2009
On Energy, Mass, Gravity And Galaxies Clusters,
A Commonsensible Epilogue, And A Prologue To Life Evolution
Origin Of Gravity And Formation Of Life


**The onset of big-bang's inflation started gravity, followed by formation of galactic clusters that behave "classically" as Newtonian bodies while continuously reconverting their shares of pre-inflation masses back to energy, and of endless intertwined evolutions WITHIN the clusters in attempts to resist this reconversion.

Astronomically there are two "physics", a "classical physics" behaviour of and between galactic clusters, and a "quantum physics" behaviour within galactic clusters.**

A. "Heavyweight galaxies in the young universe", at

New observations of full-grown galaxies in the young universe may force astrophysicists to revise their leading theory of galaxy formation, at least as it applies to regions where galaxies congregate into clusters.

B. Some brief notes in "Light On Dark Matter?", at


- "Galaxy Clusters Evolved By Dispersion, Not By Conglomeration"
- Introduction of E=Total[m(1 D)]
- "Dark Energy And Matter And The Emperor's New Clothes"
- "Evolutionary Cosmology: Ordained Or Random"
- "%u201CMovie%u201D Of Microwave Pulse Transitioning From Quantum To Classical Physics"
- "Broken Symmetry" Is Physics' Term Of Biology's "Evolution"
- "A Glimpse Of Forces-Matter-Life Unified Theory"

C. Commonsensible conception of gravity

1. According to the standard model, which describes all the forces in nature except gravity, all elementary particles were born massless. Interactions with the proposed Higgs field would slow down some of the particles and endow them with mass. Finding the Higgs %u2014 or proving it does not exist %u2014 has therefore become one of the most important quests in particle physics.

However, for a commonsensible primitive mind with a commonsensible universe represented by
E=Total[m(1 D)], this conceptual equation describes gravity. It does not explain gravity. It describes it. It applies to the whole universe and to every and all specific cases, regardless of size.

2. Thus gravity is simply another face of the total cosmic energy. Thus gravity is THE cosmic parent of phenomena such as black holes and life. It is the display of THE all-pervasive-embracive strained space texture, laid down by the expanding galactic clusters, also noticed within the galactic clusters in the energy backlashes into various constructs of temporary constrained energy packages.

3. "Extrapolation of the expansion of the universe backwards in time to the early hot dense "Big Bang" phase, using general relativity, yields an infinite density and temperature at a finite time in the past. At age 10^-35 seconds the Universe begins with a cataclysm that generates space and time, as well as all the matter and energy the Universe will ever hold."

At D=0, E was = m and both E and m were, together, all the energy and matter the Universe will ever hold. Since the onset of the cataclysm, E remains constant and m diminishes as D increases.
The increase of D is the inflation, followed by expansion, of what became the galactic clusters.

At 10^-35 seconds, D in E=Total[m(1 D)] was already a fraction of a second above zero. This is when gravity started. This is what started gravity. At this instance starts the space texture, starts the straining of the space texture, and starts the "space texture memory", gravity, that may eventually overcome expansion and initiate re-impansion back to singularity.

D. Commonsensible conception of the forces other than gravity

The forces other than gravity are, commonsensibly, forces involved in conjunction with evolution within the galactic clusters:


The farthest we go in reductionism in Everything, including in Life, we shall still end up with wholism, until we arrive at energy. Energy is the base element of everything and of all in the universe. At the beginning was the energy singularity, at the end will be near zero mass and an infinite dispersion of the beginning energy, and in-between, the universe undergoes continuous evolution consisting of myriad energy-to-energy and energy-to-mass-to-energy transformations.

The universe, and everything in it, are continuously evolving, and all the evolutions are intertwined.

E. PS to "On Cosmic Energy And Mass Evolutions"

As mass is just another face of energy it is commonsensible to regard not only life, but mass in general, as a format of temporarily constrained energy.

It therefore ensues that whereas the expanding cosmic constructs, the galaxies clusters, are - overall - continuously converting "their" original pre-inflation mass back to energy, the overall evolution WITHIN them, within the clusters, is in the opposite direction, temporarily constrained
energy packages such as black holes and biospheres and other energy-storing mass-formats are precariuosly forming and "doing best" to survive as long as "possible"...

F. From "Strings Link the Ultracold with the Superhot"


"Perfect liquids suggest theory%u2019s math mirrors something real.

When the universe was very young, and still superhot from the aftermath of the Big Bang, plasma should have been the only state of matter around. And that%u2019s what scientists at Brookhaven expected to see when they smashed gold ions together at 99.99 percent of the speed of light using a machine called RHIC (for Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider). RHIC physicists thought the ion collisions would melt the gold%u2019s protons and neutrons into a hot plasma of quarks and gluons at a temperature of a trillion kelvins, replicating conditions similar to those a microsecond after the birth of the universe. But instead of a gaslike plasma, the physicists reported in 2005, RHIC served up a hot quark soup, behaving more like a liquid than a plasma or gas."

G. The expectation of Brookhaven scientists was a bit unrealistic

The "aftermath of the Big Bang" lasted much less than 10^-35 seconds. This is evidenced by the fact that "Gravity Is THE Manifestation Of The Onset Of Cosmic Inflation Cataclysm":


With all respect due to the scientists at Brookhaven it is unrealistic to expect that they can recreate the state of pre big-bang energy-mass singularity. Commonsense is still the best scientific approach.

H. PS To "Gravity Limits Link Ultracold And Superhot": Our Inability To Create Singularity

a. From "Strings Link the Ultracold with the Superhot"

A new truth always has to contend with many difficulties,%u201D the German physicist Max Planck said decades ago. %u201CIf it were not so, it would have been discovered much sooner.%u201D

b. IMO gravity is attempted reversal of inflation

To me, a simple uninformed one, E=mc^2 is a derived formula, whereas E=Total[m(1 D)] is a commonsensical descriptive concept.

I intuitively regard both the ultracold and superhot liquids as being in a confined space and "striving but unable" to overcome D, to render D=0.

I also intuitively regard our accelerated collisions smashups as attempted "reverse inflations" in the sense that Newton's law of universal gravitation seems to me as "reverse inflation".

I. An epilogue and a prologue

Here ends the basic story of Energy, Mass, Gravity and Galaxies Clusters. For us, humans, this is the prologue to the story of Life's Evolution, briefly presented in "Updated Life's Manifest May 2009".

Dov Henis
(Comments from 22nd century)
Updated Life's Manifest May 2009
EVOLUTION Beyond Darwin 200

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