A view from multiple telescopes of SDSS J084905.51+111447.2, a system of three merging galaxies found about one billion light years from Earth. The system harbours three supermassive black holes on a collision course, a new study reports. Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/George Mason Univ./R. Pfeifle et al.; Optical: SDSS & NASA/STScI
A rare trio of supermassive black holes has been caught in the act of coming together.
Three of the light-gobbling monsters nuzzle shoulder to shoulder in SDSS J084905.51+111447.2, a system of three merging galaxies about one billion light years from Earth, a new study reports.
“We were only looking for pairs of black holes at the time, and yet, through our selection technique, we stumbled upon this amazing system,” lead author Ryan Pfeifle, of George Mason University in Virginia, United States, said in a statement. “This is the strongest evidence yet found for such a triple system of actively feeding supermassive black holes.”
Making the epic find wasn’t easy; it took observations by multiple instruments and help from lots of citizen scientists.
The trail started with the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) telescope in New Mexico, which imaged SDSS J084905.51+111447.2 in optical light. Volunteers with the citizen-science project Galaxy Zoo ...