Supermassive black hole traps six galaxies in a 'spider web' that is 300 times bigger than the Milky Way

Artist’s impression of the web of the supermassive black holeESO

  • Six galaxies have been spotted by the Very Large Telescope trapped in a web of gas around a supermassive black hole.
  • The black hole is as dense as one billion of Earth’s suns and is located 0.9 billion light-years away.
  • The galaxies have formed where the gases criss-cross each other, fueling them and the accompanying supermassive black hole.
The European Southern Observatory's ( ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) has spotted six galaxies trapped in a web around a supermassive black hole that’s just under one billion light-years away from Earth.

Very Large Telescope (VLT) at the Paranal Observatory in ChileESO

The black hole itself is as dense as one billion of Earth’s Suns. The galaxies around it are all tucked together in a web of gas extending to over 300 times the size of the Milky Way.

“The cosmic filaments are like spider’s web threads,” said Marco Mignoli, the lead author of the discovery published in Astronomy and Astrophysics.

This is the first time that such a large number of galaxies have been spotted so close to each other — and there may be more hidden in the shadows.


“We believe we have just seen the tip of the iceberg, and that the few galaxies discovered so far around this supermassive black hole are only the brightest ones,” said co-author Barbara Balmaverde.

This image shows the sky around SDSS J103027.09+052455.0, a quasar powered by a supermassive black hole surrounded by at least six galaxiesESO

What created this web around the supermassive black hole?
Since the supermassive black hole is 0.9 billion light-years away, it’s like looking back in time around 0.9 billion years — into the Early Universe. "Our work has placed an important piece in the largely incomplete puzzle that is the formation and growth of such extreme, yet relatively abundant, objects so quickly after the Big Bang," says co-author Roberto Gilli.

Though astronomers have struggled to explain that conundrum, the web-like structure is now at least one possible theory. The web, along with the galaxies within it, contains enough gas to provide fuel for the central black hole to grow into a supermassive giant.

The study proposes that the key to the formation of these web-like structures are ‘giant halos of mysterious dark matter’.

In the Early Universe, large regions of invisible matter are assumed to attract huge amounts of gas. The combination of the gas and the dark matter results in the web-like structures where such an ecosystem can grow and evolve.

“The galaxies stand and grow where the filaments cross, and the streams of gas — available to fuel both the galaxies and the central supermassive black hole — can flow along the filaments,” he explained.

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