back to article Stargazers spy elusive binary black hole system

Astronomers at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) believe they've spotted a binary black hole system - two monsters orbiting each other at the centre of a quasar* 5bn light-years from Earth. Artist's impression of the binary black hole system NOAO explains that galaxies commonly form with a black hole at their …


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  1. glennog

    Sky News strikes again...

    Eamonn Holmes... YOU ARE A NOB!!!

    That picture was shown this morning on Sky News, and Nobhead Holmes asks...

    "Is that a real picture, or an artists impression?"


    And what was the response from the brain-dead bimbo next to him?

    "I think it's a real picture"

    I mean... FFS... How dense do you have to be to present on Sky News? How insightful would they be on issues of the day, more serious news items and the current banking cluster-f*ck if they're making such stupid comments as this?

    SACK THE TOSSER, AND HIS BINT, AND EMPLOY SOME SERIOUS JOURNALISTS. I don't pay my Sky subscription for this shit.

    And just in case there's any doubt on my feelings towards the irish pseudo-journalist, let me clarify...


  2. John Allison

    Get your measurements right.

    I can forgive much, but not major innaccuracies by a supposedly educated, technically literate reporter.

    A Parsec is NOT the distance to the nearest star. Since the nearest star is our own sun that distance is around 93 million miles or somewhere around 150 million Kilometers. A tenth of that would have these Black Holes orbiting a whole lot closer than Mercury orbits the sun,

    A Parsec is a Parallax Second (look it up) and is, I think, about 3.2 lightyears,

    Perhaps one of the Reg Hacks could put this into one or more of the somewhat idiosyncratic Reg units of measure. I'd do it myslf but I really can't be bothered, plus I've forgotten them. Your fault for not reminding me often enough.

  3. amanfromMars Silver badge

    "You won't believe it" paraphrase Victor Meldrew. However, ...... :-)


    How Spooky would IT be, to read of a Parallel Dimensional Model, which has shared ...."Universal Virtual Force of Extreme Magnified Power akin to State of the Art Devices in other Extreme Fields in Parallel Dimensions ..... Excessive Energy Flows which can be Eased into Systems .... much Clearer Novel Picture of Binary Movement Possibilities .... very Potent InterPlay Components in any New World Order System" ........

    Which in the Quantum Field [of Super Sub Atomic Neural Spaces] tries to Resolve to a Acceptable and Agreeable Singularity of Understanding, Study and Views of the Infinitely Large with Pixels and Analysis chasing the Infinitely Small ........ Binary Uniting Dots

  4. Frank

    Why an accretion disc?

    Why does the matter, falling into a black hole, form an accretion disc?

    Is it because most of the matter will come from the disc of the parent galaxy and so approach the black hole from those 'equatorial' directions?

    The only other explanation I can think of is that the black hole is spinning. But if so, it would be hidden inside its own event horizon and so the approaching matter would not be able to 'see' the spin and be affected by it? The picture shown is, I am sure, an artists impression and seems to indicate that the black holes are spinning, clockwise as viewed from above.

    Damn, I've started to think about it, this will last all day.

    Any astronomers out there, please advise.

  5. Chris Miller

    A pedant writes:

    10 ^ (8.9 - 7.3) = 10 ^ 1.6 = 40

    So the larger object is 40 times heavier (800 million Suns), not 50 as stated in the NOAO article.

    Now, for your homework, demonstrate that the 100 year orbital period follows.

    (0.1 parsec is approximately 20,000 A.U.)

  6. TeeCee Gold badge
    Dead Vulture

    Shurely shome mishtake?

    "...a tenth of the distance from Earth to the nearest star."?

    FYI the nearest star is 1 AU away, not 1/10th of a parsec. Also, since Proxima Centauri is 1.29 parsecs away, it's also bollocks.

    This little bit of "give the stupid something they can understand" language is, I presume, responsible for it being reported elsewhere that these two are seperated by 1/10th of the distance from the Earth to the Sun (Daily Telegraph, I'm looking at you here).

    I was wondering how that would work with supermassive Black Holes and an Orbital period of 100 years and had already figured out that there had been an almighty cockup somewhere......

  7. Jon H

    not "Earth to the nearest star"

    "The two black holes "appear to be separated by only 1/10 of a parsec - a tenth of the distance from Earth to the nearest star""..

    Earth's nearest star is what we commonly call "the Sun". That is not 1 parsec, but one AU, about 93 million miles.

    A parsec is about 19 trillion miles, so a 10th is a little under 2 trillion miles. Bit of a difference between that and the distance to the Earth's nearest star.

  8. Yorkshirepudding

    must be...

    lister playing cosmic pool?

    mines the one with the JMC issue lager

  9. The Prevaricator

    @ chris Miller

    Using good old P=2*PI*((a^3)/(G*(M1+M2)))^0.5...

    ... I get 99.5 years orbital period. Credit where it's due.

  10. Graham Marsden


    WTH are you watching Sky Snooze for anyway...?!

  11. Anonymous Coward

    @Chris Miller

    Hi Chris - I make it 98.1 years.

    P = 2 x Pi * sqrt ( a^3 / G(M1+M2) ) in seconds.

    where a = orbiting distance (20000 * 1.5e11), G is grav constant (6.6674e-11), M1 and M2 are the masses of the bodies (2e30 * 10^8.9 and 2e30 * 10^7.3).

    AC cos I'm busy pretending to work

  12. Michael Chester

    This is either really good, or really bad...

    Either great or terrible news for those looking for gravity waves. On the plus side something like this should kick out a ton of them (from my limited understanding, I will be sure to confuse a tutor with this later), on the down side, something like this should kick out a ton of them and we haven't found any yet (unless uni life has kept me further away from the news than I think)

  13. Tom

    Sorry Lester, even with the quote marks, the story needs to be fixed

    John hit it spot on for the definition of parsec and it's approximate conversion into light years. AUs are used to measure planetary distances, not galactic or intergalactic distances, and is defined as the mean distance of the earth's distance from the sun during a single revolution around the sun.

    That always bugged me about my one and only journalism class: they pretended that so long as you quoted somebody, you were off the hook for the validity of the quote. I never bought that, so I never took the subsequent classes. I figured if they screwed up something that fundamental in the beginning, there was no hope for the later work.

  14. Anonymous Coward


    "two monsters orbiting each other"


    All we know is that approximately 5 billion years ago they were orbiting each other. It stands to reason that in that time the may have collided, we just can't see it yet.

    Sorry for being pedantic about it, but I felt pointing out a different error was worth it!

  15. Ross Fleming

    Nearest star

    As mentioned, 'what we commonly call "the Sun"' - perhaps if they meant the Sun, they'd have called it the Sun. I think we know they mean Alpha Centauri or Proxima Centauri. Distance to that? About 1.3parsecs. To the nearest parsec? 1.

    Not to mention Lester doesn't provide this handy hint out of his own fair skull, he merely quotes from the scientific journal - your beef is with them.

  16. Nick Ryan Silver badge

    Re: Why an accretion disc?

    The gravitational effects of a black hole wouldn't suddenly cease at the event horizon. The event horizon is just the point where light cannot escape the gravitational pull of the black hole, just outside of this region there are still enourmous forces at work.

  17. David Gosnell


    I make that about 11 million km/h these things are moving at

  18. Ian Michael Gumby

    And what happens when they collide?

    What happens when two massive black holes collide?

    I don't think I want to be around close enough to see what happens... ;-)

  19. Anonymous Coward


    Sounds like the start of a pedantic nonsense argument to me.

    speed of light / what is meant by now / information not travelling faster than light / entanglement / tunnelling / faster than c inflationary period / frames of reference / locality / etc.

    Why even bother trying to be smart? Its not a genuine correction and is subject to plenty of debate and opinions.

    Mine's the one with the black holes in the pockets.

  20. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    @Frank: Why an accretion disc?

    Black holes spin, and the spin affects things outside the black hole by the Lense-Thirring effect. The Lense-Thirring effect works near any rotating mass, and was measured by Gravity Probe B.

  21. Gabriel Vistica

    Accretion disks

    "The matter falling into the black hole doesn’t go directly in, but orbits around the black hole forming a flat accretion disc, much like the soap scum on water orbiting around an open drain."

    Oh, yay. Intergalactic soap scum. Another page in the Hitchhikers' Guide.

  22. Frank

    @Nick Ryan and Flocke Kroes re. Accretion Disc

    Thank you Nick and Flocke.

    The Reg commenting community - an intellectual lifeline in a confusing universe :)

  23. Anonymous Coward

    @Nick Ryan

    "The event horizon is just the point where light cannot escape the gravitational pull of the black hole"

    Yes, kind of like when you start falling down the rabbit hole.

  24. Chris C

    @ Chris Miller -- Pedantic correction to a pedant

    "10 ^ (8.9 - 7.3) = 10 ^ 1.6 = 40 ... So the larger object is 40 times heavier (800 million Suns), not 50 as stated in the NOAO article."

    Since we're being pedantic, I feel I should point out that it would NOT be "40 times heavier". 40 times heavier would be a 40X increase, which would result in a 41X multiplier. It would, however, be "40 times as heavy". This mistake is made far too often.

    I'll also point out that the NOAO quote can be easily misinterpreted. "The smaller black hole has a mass 20 million times that of the sun; the larger one is 50 times bigger..." It's easy to interpret that (based on the writing, not the maths) as saying that the smaller black hole has a mass 20 million times that of the sun, and the larger one is 50 times bigger than the sun. And, of course, it must be questioned whether they meant the word "bigger" or "as big".

  25. Paul
    Thumb Up

    So how fast are they travelling?

    Correct me if I'm wrong ( been a while since I've wanted to do any maths), but doesn't that mean that the orbital velocity would be ~10% the speed of light?

    @Michael Chester. I agree, it should lead to some interesting analysis.

  26. E

    @Chris C - poor excuse for a pedant

    The figures denote mass not weight. Thus one should say '...more massive.' not '...heavier.'

  27. Big Bear

    @And what happens when they collide?

    I would love to see stuff like that! Call it a by-product of a youth spent watching Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek and Babylon 5, and reading science fiction like the Honorverse but nothing would please me more than to see the majesty of the universe with these two orbs of viscous fluid…

    “I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the darkness at Tan Hauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time like tears in rain. Time to die.”

  28. Steve Bush

    Pic is galaxies not black holes

    The picture actually shows two GALAXIES with BILLIONS of stars and each in the order of 100,000 light years across and is utterly misleading.

  29. Anonymous Coward

    @Get your measurements right

    They do make it sound as though a parsec is a unit of measurement that measures the distance to the "nearest star" (besides SOL, our sun that is), but I think it was just clumsily phrased. Since Alpha Centauri is approx. 3 light years from Earth, or one parsec (a unit of measurement that I thought was obsolete for stellar distances), this is probably what was meant.

    Pretty cool anyway. And it does sadden me that some twit would think this is an actual picture. Especially when said twit likely makes many times my salary. Oh well, I suppose he's better at picking out hair gel and suits than I am. Everyone has their own skill set I suppose.

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