Scientists in the UK developed a new method of measuring distances to galaxies.
Sebastian Hoenig from the University of Southampton has created a new method of measuring distances to galaxies similar to the one used by land surveyors on Earth, by analyzing the angular and physical size of a ruler in the galaxy and measuring the distance using this information.
The research was used to determine the distance of the NGC 4151 galaxy. The galaxy is called “Eye of Sauron” by astronomers because it resembles the eye of Sauron in The Lord of the Rings and is very important in measuring the masses of black holes.
Distances go from four to 29 mega parsecs in recent reports but by using the new method of measuring discovered by Hoenig, scientists have calculated the distance to the supermassive black hole to 19 mega parsecs.
“One of the key findings is that the distance determined in this new fashion is quite precise – with only about 10 per cent uncertainty. In fact, if the current result for NGC 4151 holds for other objects, it can potentially beat any other current methods to reach the same precision to determine distances for remote galaxies directly based on simple geometrical principles. Moreover, it can be readily used on many more sources than the current most precise method.”
A university spokesperson said the new method of measuring distances to galaxies analyzes the rings of dust forming around supermassive black holes. He said the rings of dust form around supermassive black holes and emit infrared radiation, which is used as a ruler by scientists. The size of the ring is so small, however, that the findings were made by using infrared interferometry to combine the two 10-metre telescopes from the WM Keck Observatory and achieve the power of an 85m telescope.
Together with colleagues from Japan and Denmark, Hoenig is setting up a new schedule of extending their work to determine the exact distances of dozens of galaxies using the new method and constraining parameters to just a few percent. A better knowledge of the history of our universe will be achieved by using this method along with several other measurements.