In the constellation Hydra
11.5 million times the mass of the Sun
Diameter equal to the distance from the Sun to Mercury
One way to discover a supermassive black hole and to measure its mass is to look for hot water. Disks of gas and dust around black holes can contain water molecules. Energy from nearby stars, or from the disk itself, can boost the energy level of the water molecules, causing them to emit beams of microwaves known as masers. If Earth lies along such a beam's path, radio telescopes sensitive to microwaves can detect them.
Precise tracking of these masers reveals their motion around the center of the galaxy. By applying the laws of orbital motion, astronomers can determine the precise mass of the central object. If the object is massive enough and confined to a small enough volume, it can only be a black hole.
Using measurements made from 2005 to 2009, a team of astronomers measured the masses of the supermassive black holes in seven galaxies, including NGC 2960, which is a dusty spiral galaxy.
The measurements show that the black hole is about 11.5 million times as massive as the Sun, which is about three times as massive as the black hole at the center of the Milky Way.
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This document was last modified: September 28, 2011.