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Scientists Measure Black Hole to Be as Huge as the Sun

First Posted: May 10, 2016 04:00 AM EDT
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Not having a picture of the infamous black hole doesn't necessarily mean that researchers aren't trying to figure out what's going on. The supersized black hole can be found at the center of a galaxy known as NGC 1332, which is 73 million light years away from Earth. A team of international scientists including Rutgers associate professor Andrew J. Baker has measured its mass with unprecedented accuracy.

According to Science Daily, black hole fans have something new to get excited about. These enormous objects, which can usually be found at the center of the galaxies, are not only the constant subject of debate between some of the greatest minds, they are also known as some of the most prominent figures in science fiction. The measurements that were taken is one of the most accurate measurements of the black hole's mass ever.

The groundbreaking observations using a revolutionary Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile were published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. ALMA, the world's largest astronomical project, is a telescope with 66 radio antennas measuring about 16,400 feet above sea level. It was also mentioned that black holes are so dense that their gravity can pull anything that's close to them. Baker, who is an associate professor in the Astrophysics Group in Rutgers' Department of Physics and Astronomy since 2006, said that a black hole can form after matter, usually from an exploding star, compress via gravity.

Baker also said that gigantic black holes at the centers of enormous galaxies often grow by swallowing gas, stars and other black holes. However, he also pointed out that "just because there's a black hole in your neighborhood, it does not act like a cosmic vacuum cleaner." Stars can move 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, Science Alert reported.

The team that used ALMA for their analysis describe the black hole inside NGC 1332 is 660 million times more massive as the Sun, and has a cloud of gas circling it at approximately 1.8 million kilometers per hour (about 1.1 million miles per hour). Measuring the speed of this spin was crucial; knowing how fast the dense, cold clouds orbiting the black hole are spinning can say a lot about the black hole's mass in the center, based on its gravitational pull.

And while those clouds don't give off light for astronomers to detect, they glow brightly at certain wavelengths that ALMA can pick up. "This is the first time that ALMA has probed the orbital motion of cold molecular gas well inside the gravitational sphere of influence of a supermassive black hole," said one of the researchers, Aaron Barth from the University of California, Irvine. "We are directly viewing the region where the cold gas is responding to the black hole's gravitational pull."

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