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(MSNBC)-SEATTLE - The discovery of three distant supermassive black holes in close proximity to each other is giving astronomers a glimpse into the chaotic early years of the universe.
Roughly 100,000 quasars have been observed in recent years, some of them double quasars. But this is the first time that three quasars have been found so near one another. The three quasars are separated by about 100,000 to 150,000 light years—about the width of our Milky Way.
"Quasars are extremely rare objects. To find two of them so close together is very unlikely if they were randomly distributed in space," said study leader George Djorgovski, an astronomer at Caltech. "To find three is unprecedented."
The triple quasar discovery provides astronomers with a rare glimpse into an early, and much more chaotic, period of the universe. The quasar trio is located about 10.5 billion light years away in the Virgo constellation. This means light from those quasars that astronomers now see were emitted when the universe was just over 3 billion years old. During that early epoch, the universe was a much smaller space; galaxies were also smaller and collided much more frequently.