Have you ever wondered how big a black hole actually is? Thanks to a Japanese research team, there’s a new answer to that question.

Invisible to the naked eye and located at the center of most large galaxies, black holes are one of the most intriguing areas of study in astrophysics today. Not even light can escape their intense gravitational pull.

In order to measure a black hole known as NGC 1097, scientists lead by Kyoko Onishi used a collection of 66 radio telescopes called the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA). In addition to the fact that NGC 1097 is located 45 million light years away, the black hole rests in the center of a barred, spiral galaxy. This is significant because the movement of spiral galaxies can make taking measurements particularly difficult.

In order to achieve the most accurate results, the research team tracked the distribution of hydrogen cyanide (HCN) and formylium (HCO+) near the center of the galaxy. Through this methodology, the researchers concluded that the black hole is approximately 140 million times more massive than our planet’s Sun! That’s considerably larger than the black hole at the center of the Milky Way.

There’s evidence that how black holes evolve may correspond with the shape of the universe surrounding them and different techniques are sometimes used for measuring black holes in other types of galaxies. In an elliptical galaxy, for instance, the velocity of ionized gas clouds may reveal the size of the black hole at its core.

Onishi noted in a press release for ALMA: “Recent observation results indicate the relationship between supermassive black hole mass and host galaxy properties varies depending on the type of galaxies, which makes it more important to derive accurate supermassive black hole masses in various types of galaxies.”

Activity: Since there’s no way to observe a real black hole, one way of learning more about them is by simulating the way they work. Using stretched fabric, you can get an idea of how black holes alter time and space around them. You can find full instructions here.

Jobs: Astronomer, physicist

Source: Astronomy Magazine