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Scientists reach new milestone in the understanding of supermassive black holes

Published: 3 December 2018
Artist’s impression of the “Broad Line Region” in a quasar. Copyright: L. Calcada/ESO

An international group of astronomers have performed unprecedented analysis of gas spinning in a whirlpool around a gigantic black hole.

The research team, which includes Dr Sebastian Hoenig from the University of Southampton, have measured gas in a distant quasar while also gauging its mass with the greatest precision to date.

Quasars, also known as quasi-stellar objects, are extremely bright but distant objects that have only previously been studied within our home galaxy, the Milky Way.

Scientists achieved this latest milestone using a new instrument called GRAVITY, which combines the light of four of the largest infrared telescopes.

“It is clear that GRAVITY has the potential to bring a sea change to our understanding of these unique objects, how they grow, and how they influence their host galaxies,” Dr Hoenig explains.

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