A cosmic dance of quasars

Picture the Three Stooges in deep space. Well, theres probably not much slapstick humor watching a violent, entertaining trio of quasars that are performing a Curly Howard-style gravitational dance around each other; such a bizarre dance would make the famous Hollywood brothers of celluloid mayhem scratch their mutual knuckleheads. This deep space whirling dervish grouping will likely lead to at least two of the objects joining to create a supermassive black hole. Maybe I should say these objects performed the Curly dance since the quasars, short for quasi-stellar objects, are 10.5 billion years distant. Were witnessing events that have already occurreda mere three billion years after the Big Bang! According to Caltech astronomers, the odd man out of this strange trio will eventually get ejected from the act and then sent on a fast journey through intergalactic space into the great abyss of the cosmic backstage. The three quasars are probably protogalaxies, with supermassive black holes at their cores, surrounded by disks of hot gas as wide as our solar system. The distant system is called QQQ 1432-0106 by researchers. While Caltech astronomers discovered two of the QQQ quasars back in 1989, they didnt recognize the third partner until this decade. Hence, QQQ 1432-0106 is the first known triple-quasar system in our universe. George Djorgovski of Caltech said the quasars are 160,000 light-years apart, a little more than the diameter of the Milky Way galaxy. That appears far apart but not when youre talking about violent, zany quasars. One of the black holes embedded in the quasar is two billion times as massive as our Sun. The mind boggles trying to grasp such numbers. As the quasars move in for the routines climax, their hot gas clouds will merge and possibly hatch new stars. But at least two of the black holes will form a binary pair of quasars. The remaining black hole, the cheese that stands alone, will be ejected thanks to the play of gravity. Since the discovery of the Three Stooges quasars so close together, astronomers have acquired a better understanding of how galaxy interactions turn on the powerful energies of quasars. Whats in the Sky: On Oct. 28 the planet Venus is at its greatest elongation, 46 degrees west of the Sun at dawn. It's in the east-southeast with the dimmer ringed-planet Saturn right above it. Venus can be first seen due east about three hours before sunrise. Dont mistake this morning star planet for an aircraft or UFO.

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