23 Feb 2021 4:23:03 PM IST
Astronomers have discovered a concentration of small black holes hidden in the heart of the globular cluster NGC 6397 instead of a single massive black hole. According to a NASA statement on this discovery, globular clusters are dense star systems in which there are densely clustered stars. While all globular clusters are quite “old” astronomically, NGC 6397 is something special – researchers believe it could be almost as old as the universe itself. According to NASA, the cluster is 78,000 light years away, making it one of the closest to Earth Globular clusters. NGC 6397 is also known as the Collapsed Core Cluster because of its immensely dense core.
The astronomers initially believed that the globular cluster contained a black hole of medium mass, but found very strong evidence of an invisible mass in the dense core of the globular clusters, according to Eduardo Vitral of the Institut d’Astrophysique de Paris (IAP) in Paris, France. They were surprised, however, that this additional mass is not a “point” (which would be expected for a solitary massive black hole) but extends to a few percent of the size of the cluster.
Vitral and Gary Mamon, also from the IAP, used the velocities of the stars in the cluster to determine the distribution of their total mass, as well as in faint stars and black holes to reveal the elusive hidden mass. Mamon added that her analysis found that the orbits of the stars throughout the globular cluster are almost random, rather than continuously circular or extremely elongated.
The researchers concluded that the invisible component can only consist of the remains of massive stars. They added that the stellar corpses “gradually sank toward the center of the cluster after gravitational interactions with less massive stars nearby.”
Vitral added that their study is the first to provide both the mass and extent of an accumulation of mostly black holes in the center of a collapsed globular cluster.
The researchers note that the discovery opens up the possibility that the merging of these narrow holes into globular clusters could be an important source of gravitational waves and waves in spacetime.
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