back to article Black hole three-way: Supermassive trio are 'rippling' space

Boffins have found three supermassive black holes orbiting each other at the heart of a galaxy – and the trio could be rippling the very fabric of space and time. Particle jets belching from the supermassive black hole at the centre of Centaurus A. Credit: ESO/WFI (visible); MPIfR/ESO/APEX/A.Weiss et al. (microwave); NASA/CXC/ …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. Creamy-G00dness

    Red Dwarf Moment

    RIMMER: But a Black Hole's a huge, compacted star! It's millions of

    miles wide! Why didn't you see it on the radar screen?

    HOLLY: Well, the thing about a Black Hole - it's main distinguishing

    feature - is it's black. And the thing about space, your basic space

    colour is it's black. So how are you s'posed to see them?

    RIMMER: But five of them! How can you be ambushed by five Black Holes?

    HOLLY: Always the way, isn't it? You hang around in Deep Space for three

    million years and you don't see one. Then, all of a sudden, five all

    turn up at once.

  2. JDX Gold badge

    The closely circling black holes are in a galaxy more than four billion light years away

    A galaxy far, far away?

    1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

      Re: The closely circling black holes are in a galaxy more than four billion light years away

      ...and a long time ago as well.

    2. Acme Fixer

      Re: The closely circling black holes are in a galaxy more than four billion light years away

      What's amazing is that we're looking at black holes that were happening about the time the earth was formed. Everything about them should be said in the past tense. If we were there at the present time, they may have already died and something else may have taken their place.

      "In a galaxy long, long ago and etc."

  3. Gordon 10 Silver badge

    To put 300 times the speed of sound

    into something more useful. the Black holes are orbiting (presumably each other) at approx. 3-4 times the orbital velocity of the Earth around the sun or approx. 2x that of mercury.

    So wizzing on interstellar terms.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Chris 244

      Useful Units

      Here on El Reg, that would be 3.4% of the maximum velocity of a sheep in space.

      Not to be confused with maximum velocity of a sheep in a vacuum. Which The Register has done on their converter page.

    3. Stevie Silver badge

      Re: So wizzing on interstellar terms.

      How rude.

    4. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: To put 300 times the speed of sound

      So wizzing on interstellar terms

      That's a real pisser, galactically speaking...

    5. Mpeler

      Re: To put 300 times the speed of sound

      So how does that compare to the speed of sheep in a vacuum?

      And milliwales?

      And Milliways?

      1. Mpeler
        Paris Hilton

        Re: To put 300 times the speed of sound

        B-b-b-baby, you ain't seen m-m-mutton yet.....

        (Rather sheepish about the fact someone else mentioned that unit beforehand...)...

        I imagine the temperature nearby is quite a few Hiltons....

    6. Werner McGoole

      Re: To put 300 times the speed of sound

      Actually, that they're orbiting at 300 times the speed of sound is about the least extraordinary thing about them. In astronomical terms, that's a boring, pedestrian speed.

    7. Gav

      Not wizzing

      The speed of a planet around a star is not, by definition, interstellar. And the orbital speed of Earth is very modest, on a interstellar scale.

      However, your comparison does still make a whole lot more sense than measurement by speed of sound.

  4. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    3 holes and a LIGO?

    Tune in to the RESONANCE!

  5. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

    "Galaxies often form from mergers of other star systems, so for a galazy to end up with more than one supermassive black hole at its heart is not uncommon."

    Dear $Deity!

    Do you even proof-read, or sense check your articles? A star system is commonly understood to be the area around a single star (or two, if a binary system, etc.), a galaxy is generally composed of billions of these. I have no idea what a galazy is...

    Now, for minor errata, I would normally just email the author, but bloopers like this really need to be highlighted!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      don't know a galazy, but have known lazy gals

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: galazy

        > don't know a galazy

        Found in the Polish produce aisle at Tesco.

    2. mr.K

      solar/star/planetary/sheep system

      I am pretty sure that solar system is what you are thinking of. I was contemplating the same myself. However, I am unable to figure who actually decides what these words and expressions should mean.

      Solar system: 1. The gravitational system of Sol. Usually referred to as "our" or "the" solar system. 2. A gravitational system of a star. Also named a planetary system.

      Star system: A set of stars gravitationally bound together. Usually just a few, but the definition holds for what is usually referred to as star clusters and galaxies as well.

      However, personally I would prefer star system as the general term of a solar system.

    3. Scroticus Canis Silver badge

      @ Loyal Commenter - not only, but also......

      ..."not one, not two, but three supermassive black holes orbiting each other". ¿Que? HTF does one black hole orbit itself?

      "this exotic system one third of the way across the Universe" (4 billion light years away) as a quote from Roger Deane of the University of Cape Town. So Mr Deane thinks the universe is only 12 billion light years across? Oh dear that's not even as far as the observable universe in one direction (about 45.7 billion light years) look over your shoulder and yes same in the opposite direction.

      Is Stephen Fry secretly writing this stuff?

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: @ Loyal Commenter - not only, but also......

        > about 45.7 billion light years

        Just no.

        The "observable universe" sure ain't 45.7 GLY (woah ... the meaningless precision!) in any direction whatsoever. No light emitted "now" (if there is even a valid definition of the "now" hypersurface for the universe) will ever reach us from those distances.

        Cosmology deals with "diistance traveled by light". Deal with it.

      2. mr.K

        Re: @ Loyal Commenter - not only, but also......

        I am not so sure that four billion light years away in this setting doesn't mean distance to where the black holes were when they emi... didn't emit any light. In astronomy it makes just as much sense to speak of the light travel time distance as to talk about comoving distance. After all that is what you are actually observing, an object that is x billion light years away. The fact that it has moved a lot in the time light took to reach us and that space itself has expanded doesn't change the fact that we are observing something now that was x billion light years away then. If we suddenly should talk about where it is now we might as well talk about that it might not even exist either. Now I had said what I needed to say, under follows a rant.

        It bugs me that they have buggered this up in the observable universe definition. It is in the name for <deity here>'s sake, observable. To talk about the comoving distance then is just mind-bogglingly stupid. We are not observing a 46 billion light year universe, we are observing a 14 billion light year universe. Where these things are now doesn't matter as we are not observing them as they are now anyway. If anything we should talk about the angular diameter distance which does factor in the expansion of space, but instead of projecting what we observe in the past into how it is now it tracks backwards to how far away we were at the time light where sent out. So it would make more sense to say that the observable universe is about three billion light years in every direction. However, I do think the muppets, fiddlers and semanticeers have settled this already I am afraid, so they can argue with people that don't care at parties about "No that is a misconception, the observable universe is 45,7 billion light years in radius, you see..." after that they will go on at lengths about how glass is either solid liquid or a liquid solid.

        The thing is that when you talk about distance and you have several ways to measure it you have to actually tell us what metric you use. Once you do that any argument falls flat since it is in the clear what you mean. For instance measuring distances on Earth and you say "in a straight line" it usually means staying on the surface and not cutting through planet. But you can still go to parties and say "but a straight line doesn't curve so the distance between New York and Los Angles is really, yada yada".

        As for your orbiting itself or each other comment, the sentence in the article makes perfect sense.

  6. malle-herbert Silver badge

    Three black holes packed tightly together...

    I just know there's a "your mom" joke in there somewhere...

  7. Bsquared

    No, hang on - ye canna defy the laws o' physics, Captain!

    "In the system affectionately and tongue-twistingly known as SDSS J150243.09+111557.3, the closest black holes are so near to each other, researchers originally the pair of them were one hole."

    How can one black hole split into two? Nothing can escape the event horizon (yes, I know apart from Hawking radiation and cheating via quantum tunneling). So how can a whopping supermassive black hole "escape" from another black hole?

    1. malle-herbert Silver badge

      Re: "How can one black hole split into two?"

      It didn't... it just looked like one hole... but there where actually two of them...

      We just couldn't see because they where so close together...

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: "How can one black hole split into two?"

        This explanation is very simple and actually correct!

        Although I am unsure whether it is as yet mathematically proven that a black hole cannot actually split into two

        1. Chemist

          Re: "How can one black hole split into two?"

          "I am unsure whether it is as yet mathematically proven that a black hole cannot actually split into two"

          I'd bet that'd be a pretty weird bit of space-time gymnastics though

        2. Annihilator

          Re: "How can one black hole split into two?"

          "Although I am unsure whether it is as yet mathematically proven that a black hole cannot actually split into two"

          Odd question, but I would assume the answer is "even if possible, wouldn't really matter". Given nothing can escape the event horizon, even if a split were to happen (and couldn't begin to imagine what would cause that) they wouldn't be able to escape each other and equally not be able to escape the event horizon of the system, beyond which there is no effect on our side.

    2. PhilBuk

      MIssing Word

      Try inserting the word 'thought' between 'researchers' and 'originally'.


  8. User McUser

    Some one is building a Time Machine!


    [...] one of the suggestions for creating a closed timelike curve would be to get three black holes, line them up, and start them spinning.

    Looks like they're about to finish up... Just have to nudge that last one into place.

    1. Mpeler
      Paris Hilton

      Re: Some one is building a Time Machine!

      Eddie - where's Eddie?

      Eddie's in the space-time continuum.....

      (with apologies to Ford Prefect and Douglas Adams)....

      Paris, because she's looking for him too.....

      1. asdf Silver badge

        Re: Some one is building a Time Machine!

        >Eddie - where's Eddie?

        >Eddie's in the space-time continuum.....

        "Eddie, why'd you shoot Jimmie Walker in his lips? I liked Good Times!"

        Love Douglas Adams but being American love low brow humor even more lol.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    different terminology please

    Please stop using the word Boffin. Makes you sound low brow.

    1. gazthejourno (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: different terminology please

      You're not familiar with the Register's style or tone, are you?

    2. mr.K

      Re: different terminology please

      Stop using the phrase low brow, it makes you sound elitist.

      1. Werner McGoole

        Re: different terminology please

        Technically, I think he has stopped. Unless he uses it again, of course. But you won't know that until he does, so it's too early to complain yet.

  10. Meerkatjie

    Apparently not, though when they collide/merge they can spawn little baby black holes.

    I'm not a physicist so grain of salt and all that

    1. LosD
      Paris Hilton

      Awwwwww, baby black holes! So adorable!

  11. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    How do they actually orbit?

    My understanding of unified field theory isn't the best but I thought that for forces to work on each other wave/particles ("gravitons in the case of gravity) of force had to be exchanged. Does this mean black holes are not black to gravity? Or does the curvature of space time provide a sufficient explanation?

    1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

      Re: How do they actually orbit?

      Putting it like that, it is an interesting question. AFAIK black holes, whatever they are exactly defined as, have a velocity through space and it's predicted that black holes would rotate as well (as distinct from the orbital spin of the matter collapsing into them). Gravity, whatever the hell it actually is, would have to "escape" the clutches of the black hole otherwise there would be no force of attraction, which would mean no black hole could form (or at the least grow). Gravity tends to work universally therefore a black hole would be attracted to any other nearby (massive) object such as another other black hole, which given some velocity is all you really need for one to orbit the other.

      This has doubtless already answered elsewhere in a much better theoretical but thoroughly non-understandable way to the likes of myself.

    2. Annihilator

      Re: How do they actually orbit?

      They're definitely not "black" to gravity, otherwise nothing could orbit them.

      Also, if gravitons exist (it's all still hypothetical), they won't have any mass.

    3. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: How do they actually orbit?

      "The curvature of spacetime" is the classical approach. Use it.

      "Graviton exchange" is the Quantum Field Theoretic approach, still being researched. Do not use it for Gravity. But yes, gravitons would definitely be exchanged by anything in the vacuum. If the gravitational field can be meaningfully quantized.

  12. Stevie Silver badge


    "tightest trio ever spotted by scientists"

    Tighter than Crosby, Still and Nash? The Police? The Leroy Avenue Jive Cats?

    I think not.

    1. Scroticus Canis Silver badge

      Re: Bah!

      I was thinking Hendrix, Redding and Mitchell myself but Cream were also good though slight too laid back to be 'tight'.

      1. Mark York 3 Silver badge

        Re: Bah!

        I was thinking for a tight trio MUSE, for Black Holes & Revelations with their own Super Massive Black Hole.

  13. breakfast

    Impressive work from the SKA

    The problem with the SKA of course, is that the images it produces are all two-tone.

  14. TwistUrCapBack

    Black holes

    Absolutely love 'em

  15. Frogmelon

    So powerful that even thought cannot escape their embrace...

    1. Mpeler
      Big Brother

      thought cannot escape....

      Sounds like Brussels and the EU gov't....

This topic is closed for new posts.

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019