Feb 16, 2021 - Science

Scientists seek better understanding of black holes from star cluster

NGC 6397 seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. Photo: NASA/ESA/STScI

A cluster of stars 7,800 light-years away has a group of relatively small black holes hiding in its center.

The big picture: By learning more about this unexpected arrangement of stars and black holes, scientists might be able to piece together a better understanding of the complexities around how black holes behave.

The intrigue: Scientists were initially interested in the globular cluster of stars — named NGC 6397 — because they thought an elusive type of black hole known as an intermediate-mass black hole might be hidden within it.

  • After studying data from the Hubble Space Telescope, however, the researchers behind the new study in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics found that instead of one relatively large black hole at its center, NGC 6397 was actually hiding many smaller ones.
  • Those black holes likely arose from the deaths of massive stars and migrated toward the center of the globular cluster because of their immense gravity, influencing other stars as well.
  • Black holes within globular clusters could be a source of ripples in space and time called gravitational waves if they collide with one another.
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