By measuring a peak in the temperature of hot gas in the center of the giant elliptical galaxy NGC 4649, scientists have determined the mass of the galaxy's supermassive black hole. The method, applied for the first time, gives results that are consistent with a traditional technique.
Astronomers have been seeking different, independent ways of precisely weighing the largest supermassive black holes, that is, those that are billions of times more massive than the sun. Until now, methods based on observing the motions of stars or of gas in a disk near such large black holes had been used.
"This is tremendously important work since black holes can be elusive, and there are only a couple of ways to weigh them accurately," said Philip Humphrey, leader of the study and an assistant project scientist in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at UCI. David Buote, associate professor of physics and astronomy at UCI, also worked on this study.