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A massive black hole at the centre of the quiescent galaxy M32

Abstract

Massive black holes are thought to reside at the centres of many galaxies1,2, where they power quasars and active galactic nuclei. But most galaxies are quiescent, indicating that any central massive black hole present will be starved of fuel and therefore detectable only through its gravitational influence on the motions of the surrounding stars. M32 is a nearby, quiescent elliptical galaxy in which the presence of a massive black hole has been suspected3–9; however, the limited resolution of the observational data and the restricted classes of models used to interpret this data have made it difficult to rule out alternative explanations, such as models with an anisotropic stellar velocity distribution and no dark mass or models with a central concentration of dark objects (for example, stellar remnants or brown dwarfs). Here we present space-based high-resolution optical spectra of M32, which show that the stellar velocities near the centre of this galaxy exceed those inferred from previous ground-based observations. We use a range of general dynamical models to determine a central dark mass concentration of (3.4 ± 1.6) × 106 solar masses, contained within a region only 0.3 pc across. This leaves a massive black hole as the most plausible explanation of the data, thereby strengthening the view that such black holes exist even in quiescent galaxies.

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van der Marel, R., de Zeeuw, P., Rix, HW. et al. A massive black hole at the centre of the quiescent galaxy M32. Nature 385, 610–612 (1997). https://doi.org/10.1038/385610a0

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