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Astronomers spot three supermassive black holes on collision course

30 Sep 2019, 15:16 UTC
Astronomers spot three supermassive black holes on collision course
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Observations by the Chandra X-ray Observatory, optical and infrared telescopes show a collision between three remote galaxies hosting three supermassive black holes. Image: X-ray: NASA/CXC/George Mason Univ./R. Pfeifle et al.; Optical: SDSS & NASA/STScI
Astronomers have spotted three galaxies hosting three supermassive black holes that are in the process of colliding.
“We were only looking for pairs of black holes at the time, and yet, through our selection technique, we stumbled upon this amazing system,” said Ryan Pfeifle of George Mason University, the first author of a new paper in The Astrophysical Journal describing the observations. “This is the strongest evidence yet found for such a triple system of actively feeding supermassive black holes.”
Said Shobita Satyapal, also of George Mason: “Dual and triple black holes are exceedingly rare, but such systems are actually a natural consequence of galaxy mergers, which we think is how galaxies grow and evolve.”
The system in question, known as SDSS J084905.51+111447.2, is about a billion light years from Earth. It was first identified as a system of colliding galaxies based on images captured by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey telescope. NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer – WISE – space telescope then examined the system ...

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