An international team of scientists spotted a black hole about 660 million times bigger than the sun at the centre of NGC 1332 galaxy, 73 million light-years away from Earth. The discovery was made possible using the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) in Chile and has been published on May 5 in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

They also observed that a cloud of gas circles orbit the black hole at about 1.1 million miles per hour or 1.7 kilometres per hour. It turns out that this black hole is 150 times bigger than the most massive black hole in the Milky Way.

“Measuring the mass of a black hole accurately is very challenging, even with the most powerful telescopes on Earth or in space,” says study lead author Aaron Barth, an astronomer at the University of California, Irvine. “ALMA has the revolutionary ability to observe disks of cold gas around supermassive black holes at small enough scales that we can clearly distinguish the black hole’s influence on the disk’s rotational speed.”

NGC 1332

This is NGC 1332, a galaxy with a black hole at its center whose mass has been measured at high precision by ALMA. Credit: Carnegie-Irvine Galaxy Survey

To accurately measure the black hole, the team measured the speed of the gas and analysed the carbon monoxide emissions from a cold gas orbiting the black hole. According to Rutgers University Associate Professor Andrew Baker, supermassive black holes grow by swallowing gas, other black holes and stars.

Measuring black holes accurately can give insights into a galaxy’s origins. Apparently, understanding how black holes evolved into supermassive sizes can provide clues about the constituents that formed galaxies.

The researchers submitted a proposal to employ the ALMA to study supermassive black holes. However, the approval may take some time since the use of these telescopes is granted after reviewing countless proposals from scientists around the globe.

Another supermassive black hole was discovered earlier this year at the centre of NGC 160 galaxy. This black hole has the mass of 17 billion suns.