The precise mass of a black hole has been measured for the first time

This is the central region of NGC 1097 observed with ALMA. The velocity of the HCN gas is shown in the colour and overlaid on the optical image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Red indicates gas is moving away from us while purple is coming closer to us. Image: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO), K. Onishi (SOKENDAI), NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope

Scientists have for the first time measured the precise mass of a black hole.

Researchers in Japan observed the barred spiral galaxy NGC 1097 with ALMA and found that the central supermassive black hole (SMBH) has a mass 140 million times the mass of the Sun.

Since galaxies are believed to have co-evolved with supermassive black holes, mass is an important parameter in understanding their relation in the context of galaxy evolution.

It is thought that a majority of the galaxies in the universe have a massive black hole in the galactic centre.

These black holes, with masses of several millions to tens of billions of solar masses, are called supermassive black holes.

Measuring that mass is the first step to solving the long-standing mysteries about how galaxies and supermassive black holes have been formed and co-evolved.

In other research, astronomers have spotted huge clouds of gas orbiting the supermassive black holes.

Once thought to be a relatively uniform, fog-like ring, the matter instead forms clumps dense enough to intermittently dim intense radiation as the enormous objects condense and consume matter.

According to a paper in the monthly notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, the clouds were found by checking records collected over 16 years by NASA’s Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer, a satellite in low-earth orbit.

Here’s an animation, an impression, of the cloudy structure:

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