How Scientists Managed to Weigh Black Holes

The rebus is not the easiest: how to weigh a space object with the help of a telescope? How scientists have managed to weigh black holes.

The mass of a black hole is more important than you might imagine - and it's no coincidence that it's part of the information scientists would like to know, exactly, before so much else about enigmatic celestial objects.

It is in fact the mass that decides whether a black hole will really form, and it is the mass that determines its powerful gravitational attraction, able to suck in the surrounding gas and dust, which form the characteristic corona - more or less large - that has rightly become part of our mental representation of a black hole.

How Scientists Managed to Weigh a Black Hole

Weighing objects millions of light-years away with the simple aid of a telescope, however, is far from simple. For this reason, scientists have developed a number of theories, through which to indirectly reach information on the mass by making assessments of other elements, namely the flashes of light that escape from the mysterious black circle at the center of the hole.

The belief of scholars is that most galaxies have supermassive black holes,  constituted by the black circle at the center of the celestial object and the corona around, which is drawn by disks of gas and dust that are affected by the gravitational attraction of the black hole. The corona, which can be more or less large, flashes as a result of flashes of light that escape from the black hole itself, some of which precisely hit the corona, others instead become observable by telescopes on Earth.

How much does a supermassive black hole weigh

Starting from this knowledge base, we arrive at the hypothesis on the mass: it is possible to measure the mass of the black hole from the reflection of flashes emitted by the black circle on the corona. In particular, the greater the delay between the flash emitted by the black hole and the light reflected on the corona, the more consistent is the mass of the black hole, because it is larger the cloud of gas that forms the corona.

This is a method that requires very powerful telescopes and variable observation periods: we do not know, in fact, neither why the black hole emits flashes, nor because these flashes respect time intervals between one and the other absolutely random. But the technique has already been put into practice some hundreds of times, giving as a result estimates certainly interesting, although far from being definitive.

By the way, how much does a supermassive black hole weigh? The answer is on the order of a few million or billion times that of the Sun.

Black hole research never ceases to fascinate scientists, who have managed to photograph the light behind a black hole and have delved into their galactic tsunamis.

Giuseppe Giordano