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by Staff Writers
Hertfordshire UK (SPX) Feb 01, 2013
In a letter to Nature, an international team of astronomers, including Marc Sarzi from the University of Hertfordshire, report the exciting discovery of a new way to measure the mass of supermassive black holes in galaxies.
By measuring the speed with which carbon monoxide molecules orbit around such black holes, this new research opens the possibility of making these measurements in many more galaxies than ever before.
Supermassive black holes and galaxies
Understanding the formation of the first galaxies, the way galaxies change over time, and the processes that have generated the variety of structures observed in nearby galaxies is one of the most active research areas in astrophysics.
Until now only three methods were used to measure the mass of supermassive black holes and these only work on relatively nearby galaxies. With this new technique, we have been able to show that we can measure black hole masses much further out in the universe, which will help understanding the role that supermassive black holes played during the formation of galaxies."
Super-sharp telescope images
With its super-sharp images we were able to zoom right into the centre of the galaxy and observe the gas whizzing around the black hole. This gas moves at a speed which is determined by the black-hole's mass, and the distance from it. By measuring the velocity of the gas at each position, we can measure the mass of the black hole."
The CARMA observations were rather challenging, but the new ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array) telescope currently being built in Chile will allow this new technique to be applied more routinely to hundreds of galaxies in the nearby Universe.
University of Hertfordshire
Understanding Time and Space
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