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ESOAstronomers at the Very Large Telescope (VLT) recently found six galaxies orbiting a black hole in the ancient Universe. The galaxies orbiting this supermassive black hole (SMBH) are seen as they appeared when the Universe was just 900 million years old. This collection of galaxies, centered around the quasar SDSS J1030+0524, is the oldest, closest galactic cluster ever seen orbiting a supermassive black hole.

Supermassive black holes are found near the center of every galaxy, including the Milky Way. Those galaxies containing extremely energetic black holes can come alight as quasars.

The new study reveals the galaxies are huddled around a behemoth black hole, 250 times more massive than the SMBH at the center of the Milky Way galaxy. Encompassing this system, a vast spider web of gas and dust, 300 times the size of the Milky Way, stretches across space.

“The cosmic web filaments are like spider’s web threads. The galaxies stand and grow where the filaments cross, and streams of gas — available to fuel both the galaxies and the central supermassive black hole — can flow along the filaments,” said Marco Mignoli, astronomer at the National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) in Bologna, Italy.