Research in galaxy co-evolution has taken a new step with the first-time analysis of a supermassive black hole located at the center of NGC 1097 barred spiral galaxy.
It is an exciting time for the research team led by Kyoko Onishi from the SOKENDAI, Japan who, with the help the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) were able to perform a one of its kind analysis of the mass of NGC 1097’s supermassive black hole.
NGC 1097 is a keen of our own spiral galaxy Milky Way. The barred spiral galaxy is found at almost 45 million light-years away from us, in the direction of Fornax constellation. The supermassive black hole at its center was found by the scientists to be 140 million times the mass of the sun.
In a sharp observation, ALMA provided the data needed for the scientists to look at in just two hours. Supermassive black holes are known to be a crucial factor in understanding the evolution of the galaxies at the center of which they lie.
In contrast with the SMBH at the center of barred spiral galaxy NGC 1097, the one inhabiting our home galaxy is a mere million solar masses.
The proof-of-concept analysis that determined the mass of the supermassive black hole was based on measuring both the distribution and the motion of two gas molecules found close to the center of NGC 1097. The two molecules are Hydrogen Cyanide (HCN) and formylium (HCO+).
Previously, several models had been computerized based on the same analysis method, each to represent one possible mass of the supermassive black hole.
When data obtained from ALMA’s precise measurements was run through the mathematical models, the best fit between the two sets of data was indicating a supermassive black hole with the mass equivalent to 140 million solar masses.
Until recently, the trial was a lengthy process that could leave daunting open ends for years. ALMA changed the way astronomers will be conducting research in the field of galaxy evolution and co-evolution.
The proof of concept analysis that determined the mass of the supermassive black hole located at the center of NGC 1097 was a stepping stone. ALMA’s job is not done however:
“To reveal the relation between the SMBH and the host galaxy, we need to derive more SMBH masses in various types of galaxies. ALMA will enable us to observe a large number of galaxies in a practical length of time”,
stated Kyoko Onishi.
The method used to derive the mass of this particular SMBH is just one out of a multitude that researchers have at their disposal, depending on the particular type of galaxy they are looking at.
For the Milky Way, optical telescopes are following the movements of stars zipping around the center of the galaxy.
For barred spiral galaxies located at such distances like the NGC 1097, this observational method is not fit due to the highly demanding angular resolution that it would require.
Image Source: NASA