Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory

Science Updates


Measuring the mass of a celestial body is one of the most challenging tasks in observational astronomy. The most successful method uses binary systems because the orbital parameters of the system depend on the two masses. In the case of black holes, neutron stars, and white dwarfs, the end states of stellar evolution, many are isolated objects, and most of them are also very faint.


A merger between galaxies can trigger can intense radiation from bursts star formation and from the accretion of gas onto the two supermassive black holes at their centers. Astronomers have observed a strong statistical correlation between the masses of these black holes and other properties of the galaxies like their velocity structure or luminosity, and have concluded that there must be a connection.

The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) is a "research institute" of the Smithsonian Institution. It is joined with the Harvard College Observatory (HCO) to form the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). Because these research activities share Harvard and Smithsonian staff and resources, the links at this website will take you to information posted on the "CfA" pages.