Supermassive black holes are believed to be ubiquitous at the centers of galaxies. Measuring their masses is extremely challenging yet essential for understanding their role in the formation and evolution of cosmic structure. We present a direct measurement of the mass of a black hole in an active galactic nucleus (Arp 151) based on the motion of the gas responsible for the broad emission lines. By analyzing and modeling spectroscopic and photometric time series, we find that the gas is well described by a disk or torus with an average radius of 3.99 ± 1.25 light days and an opening angle of 68.9+21.4 – 17.2 deg, viewed at an inclination angle of 67.8 ± 7.8 deg (that is, closer to face-on than edge-on). The black hole mass is inferred to be 106.51 ± 0.28 M . The method is fully general and can be used to determine the masses of black holes at arbitrary distances, enabling studies of their evolution over cosmic time.



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URL: http://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/phy_fac/394