For the first time, three supermassive black holes have been discovered in a tight orbital dance inside the center of a galaxy 4 billion light-years away. The discovery was made by radio telescopes located in Europe, Asia and South Africa, and astronomers believe that it’s extreme gravitational environments such as these that rumble spacetime, generating gravitational waves that are theorized to propagate throughout the cosmos.
“What remains extraordinary to me is that these black holes, which are at the very extreme of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, are orbiting one another at 300 times the speed of sound on Earth,” said Roger Deane, of the University of Cape Town, South Africa, in a press release. “Not only that, but using the combined signals from radio telescopes on four continents we are able to observe this exotic system one third of the way across the Universe.” Two of the black holes are orbiting very close to one another, creating corkscrew-like jets of emissions from one of the black holes as they interact. The third black hole has a wider orbit and emits straight jets from its poles that aren’t impacted significantly by the other pair of black holes.
The observation was made possible by a global network of radio antennae that operate as one, vast array. The technique of linking radio telescopes on different continents and separated by up to 10,000 kilometers is known as Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) and, when linked, the observations can reveal detail in cosmological targets 50 times finer than the Hubble Space Telescope is capable of. Via Trio of Monster Black Holes Rumble Spacetime