Measuring a black hole 660 million times as massive as our sun

Measuring a black hole 660 million times as massive as our sun
NGC 1332, a galaxy with a black hole at its center whose mass has been measured at high precision by ALMA. Credit: Carnegie-Irvine Galaxy Survey

It's about 660 million times as massive as our sun, and a cloud of gas circles it at about 1.1 million mph.

This sits at the center of a galaxy dubbed NGC 1332, which is 73 million light years from Earth. And an international team of scientists that includes Rutgers associate professor Andrew J. Baker has measured its mass with unprecedented accuracy.

Their groundbreaking observations, made with the revolutionary Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, were published today in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. ALMA, the world's largest astronomical project, is a telescope with 66 radio antennas about 16,400 feet above sea level.

Black holes - the most massive typically found at the centers of - are so dense that their gravity pulls in anything that's close enough, including light, said Baker, an associate professor in the Astrophysics Group in Rutgers' Department of Physics and Astronomy. The department is in the School of Arts and Sciences.

A black hole can form after matter, often from an exploding star, condenses via gravity. Supermassive at the centers of massive galaxies grow by swallowing gas, stars and other black holes. But, said Baker, "just because there's a black hole in your neighborhood, it does not act like a cosmic vacuum cleaner."

Measuring a black hole 660 million times as massive as our sun
Combined image of NGC 1332 shows the central disk of gas surrounding the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy. New ALMA observations traced the motion of the disk, providing remarkably precise measurements of the black hole's mass: 660 million times the mass of our Sun. The main image is from the Carnegie-Irvine Galaxy Survey. The box in the upper left is from the Hubble Space Telescope and shows the galaxy's central region in infrared light and the dusty disk appears as a dark silhouette. The ALMA image, upper right box, shows the rotation of the disk, enabling astronomers to calculate its mass. The red region in the ALMA image represents emission that has been redshifted by gas rotating away from us; the blue represents blue-shifted gas rotating toward us. The range of colors represent rotational speeds up to 500 kilometers per second. Credit: A. Barth (UC Irvine), ALMA (NRAO/ESO/NAOJ); NASA/ESA Hubble;Carnegie-Irvine Galaxy Survey.

Stars can come close to a black hole, but as long as they're in stable orbits and moving fast enough, they won't enter the black hole, said Baker, who has been at Rutgers since 2006.

"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," he said. "We're not going to get sucked in."

Scientists think every massive galaxy, like the Milky Way, has a at its center, Baker said. "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," he said.

Understanding the formation and evolution of galaxies is one of the major challenges for modern astrophysics. The scientists' findings have important implications for how galaxies and their central supermassive black holes form. The ratio of a black hole's mass to a galaxy's mass is important in understanding their makeup, Baker said.

Research suggests that the growth of galaxies and the growth of their black holes are coordinated. And if we want to understand how galaxies form and evolve, we need to understand supermassive black holes, Baker said.

Part of understanding supermassive black holes is measuring their exact masses. That lets scientists determine if a black hole is growing faster or slower than its galaxy. If black hole mass measurements are inaccurate, scientists can't draw any definitive conclusions, Baker said.

To measure NGC 1332's central black hole, scientists tapped ALMA's high-resolution observations of carbon monoxide emissions from a giant disc of cold gas orbiting the hole. They also measured the speed of the gas.

"This has been a very active area of research for the last 20 years, trying to characterize the masses of black holes at the centers of galaxies," said Baker, who began studying black holes as a graduate student. "This is a case where new instrumentation has allowed us to make an important new advance in terms of what we can say scientifically."

He and his coauthors recently submitted a proposal to use ALMA to observe other massive black holes. Use of ALMA is granted after an annual international competition of proposals, according to Baker.

Explore further

Image: Computer simulation of a supermassive black hole

More information: "Measurement of the Black Hole Mass in NGC 1332 from ALMA Observations at 0.044 Arcsecond Resolution," Aaron Barth et al., 2016 May 10, Astrophysical Journal Letters … /2041-8205/822/2/L28 , Arxiv:
Journal information: Astrophysical Journal Letters

Provided by Rutgers University
Citation: Measuring a black hole 660 million times as massive as our sun (2016, May 5) retrieved 20 October 2019 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

May 05, 2016
To measure NGC 1332's central black hole, scientists tapped ALMA's high-resolution observations of carbon monoxide emissions from a giant disc of cold gas orbiting the hole. They also measured the speed of the gas.

Given how wrong nearly all mathematically based astrophysical theories regarding space plasmas have been, the findings in this paper are highly suspect. Over the last 50 years almost every aspect of near Earth space plasma theory has been rewritten due to in situ measurement. The same cannot be said for unreachable areas such as this, the physics of these plasma regions is likely just as or more wrong than the discarded theories of near Earth plasmas.

May 05, 2016
Let's put the rotational speed of 1.1 million miles per hour stated in the article into perspective

Why? The article mentions 1.1 million MPH orbital speed of the gas cloud.

May 05, 2016
sub; blocked Space vision ? how can science progress to next dimensional base!!
Change from these concepts- your info: A black hole can form after matter, often from an exploding star, condenses via gravity. Supermassive black holes at the centers of massive galaxies grow by swallowing gas, stars and other black holes

May 06, 2016
On this photo I can see only white shining spot istead of fictional black hole. To see a black hole there where I see such bright white spot I need strong imagination.
It makes an impression that the fictional objects that modern meta physics introduced in post scientific word are awlays elusive and hidden from the modern scientific equipment and this is constant trend that does not comply with the scientific facts obtainded by direct observation and experiments.

May 06, 2016
I am sure 100 % that you can not give even one scientific evidence for the existance of mathematical objects called black holes in the real physical world. I doubt that you even will try this.

May 06, 2016
Evidence goes to show content does not matter when voting on PhysOrg, only shared beliefs;

Phys1- May 5, 2016, 3:20 pm- votes by the following; yyz, Tektrix, BartV, SCVGoodToGo, obama_socks, Captain Stumpy, Da Schneib. Rating 4.4/5

As can be plainly seen, comment is completely erroneous as Phails1 apparently misread the article. Yet 6 of 7 voters clicked on "5". It would appear 6 of 7 PhysOrg voters are morons and use the voting option to validate their childish popularity contest.

May 06, 2016
The voting system (the Roman biased system for determining the right) is quite unnatural for the true scientific comunity because the truth can not be determed by consensus. This system is in essence a dictatorship of the majority, which usually as a rule which accompanying the whole human history, do not knows the truth and bilieves in mithologies.

May 07, 2016
I put delusional psychos on ignore. It's amazing how the comments are reduced. This article, attempting to sound design cutting edge with the title, quickly devolves into a grammar school level definition of black holes. Not the best read. Then, the comments? Mainly delusional crank psychos, only two I can read - and one of them is playing with the trolls.
I guess I'll have to look elsewhere for serious scientific news and reporting and commentary....

May 07, 2016
@Zzzzz, the measurements of the accretion disk are fairly compelling, I'd say, despite the grammar school discussion of black holes. This article is about observation, not theory. They threw some theory in there so momndadnbuddynsis could figure out what the heck they're on about.

Amusingly I see the same two comment posts you do. If we stop talking to the trolls eventually they'll go away; I've been saying this for literally years.

May 07, 2016
If we stop talking to the trolls eventually they'll go away
the "trolls", yes
... they're literally posting only for attention (antigorical in any climate thread, shooty, gkam etc)

but the above demonstrates something far more nefarious than "trolls" - the fundamentalist true believer

this applies to CD, vidyun, bschott and other pseudoscience acolytes posting (more so than the religious fundies who can't differentiate between evidence and belief)

when they post, some can offer compelling arguments that the layman would accept out of ignorance...
this gradually twists the cognitive ability of the ignorant and lessens the critical thinking skills causing them to accept what is then perceived to be a "logical" thought process (see electric universe, creationists as examples)

cults do this all the time...
so this anti-science type post requires response to mitigate fallacious pseudoscience spreading to those who don't have the knowledge to research

May 07, 2016
@Cappy, I admire your persistence but I simply don't care enough to bother. I have too much else to do IRL to waste time on those who will never, ever get it.

May 07, 2016
Cap'n there is validity in what you say, no doubt. That's fine for those who have the time and inclination to get involved in such activity. I used to spend time that way, but no longer have the patience to do so. I'm sure that indicates some sort of character flaw...... I'm not saying I'm interested in a "no dissenting opinions" space, but more a minimum level of competence. I have used the ignore list on this site as a filter in an attempt to find that level, but am realizing there ain't a lot left after the filtering........ especially when you subtract the responses to trolls and psychos.

May 07, 2016
I admire your persistence
thanks. i appreciate it
I have too much else to do IRL to waste time on those who will never, ever get it
If i may appeal to your ego for a moment?

Don't do it for them

Do it for the person who tries to learn and reads the comments seeking more information that isn't in the article

some of those people assume, wrongly, that because this is a science site with guidelines for posting that it's also moderated or controlled, and that the posts are factual and evidenciary based

so they would assume (again, wrongly) that a comment & link to an eu site (or jvk's creationist sites) hold the same credibility as a link to,, or peer reviewed Journals like Science Magazine

those are the people who need your expertise (like your comments to gkam) ... not the idiots who post the pseudoscience

please take that into consideration - make this a long term "hobby" if you will

May 07, 2016
no... patience
i can sympathize and relate
character flaw
not really. it's human nature, and your education sometimes makes it hard to deal with the blatantly ignorant who choose pseudoscience over reality - i really do get that. it's my motivation
there ain't a lot left after the filtering
this is because the site panders to the trolls and pseudoscience posters for the sake of inflated interest... it is why prolific posters like gkam, o_socks or zephir and his sock army will not be deleted
it creates money for the site

what we CAN do to try and get the real scientists talking again (or posting evidence based claims) is appeal to the site for moderation
or to remove the comments entirely and allow other sites to pick up the moderated forum conversations

i've turned in a suggestion that will work with minimal cost to PO (change profile permissions)
appeal to them!
together we can make a difference

& NO, i am not on the list to MOD

May 07, 2016
make this a long term "hobby" if you will
I did for a while, and it left me burned out and bitter, which interfered with RL activities I value much more than posting on the Internet. Now I ignore them.

May 07, 2016
What drives your interest to non existing in physical reality absract mathematical objects, derived from the mathematical theory of chaos (GR), that are represented in society as phenomenom that violate physical laws supporting the originaly established order in the universe in the interest of life?
After scientist can not observe in nature such fictional objects and can not give sicnetific evidence for their existance, the believing in them become pure religion and have unscientific motives.
The conection is that the theory for the biological evolution can not exist without the fictional billion of years provided by the big bang theory, which is connected with GR theory. Here we easily can see a strong desire for political correctness in post scientific comunities.
All these abstract theories are sand tower without rigid foundations.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more