A Trio of Massive Black Holes Caught in the Act of Merging

Xin Liu, Meicun Hou, Zhiyuan Li, Kristina Nyland, Hengxiao Guo, Minzhi Kong, Yue Shen, Joan M. Wrobel, Sijia Peng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We report the discovery of SDSS J0849+1114 as the first known triple Type 2 Seyfert nucleus. It represents three active black holes that are identified from new spatially resolved optical slit spectroscopy using the Dual Imaging Spectrograph on the 3.5 m telescope at the Apache Point Observatory. We also present new complementary observations including the Hubble Space Telescope Wide Field Camera 3 U- and Y-band imaging, Chandra Advanced CCD Imaging Spectrometer S-array X-ray 0.5-8 keV imaging spectroscopy, and NSF Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array radio 9.0 GHz imaging in its most extended A configuration. These comprehensive multiwavelength observations, when combined together, strongly suggest that all three nuclei are active galactic nuclei. While they are now still at kiloparsec-scale separations, where the host-galaxy gravitational potential dominates, the black holes may evolve into a bound triple system in ≲2 Gyr. These triple merger systems may explain the overly massive stellar cores that have been observed in some elliptical galaxies such as M87, which are expected to be unique gravitational wave sources. Similar systems may be more common in the early universe, when galaxy mergers are thought to have been more frequent.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number90
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 10 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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