A tight knot of stars almost as old as the universe hides a dark secret at its core.
Globular cluster NGC 6397, a conglomeration of stars about 7,800 light-years from Earth, likely harbors a cluster of small black holes at its core, according to a new study.
Researchers studied the movement of stars in NGC 6397 using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and the European Space Agency’s Gaia spacecraft. These movements revealed the existence of a hidden mass in the center of the cluster – a “dark central component” which represents 0.8 to 2% of the total mass of NGC 6397.
Images: Black holes of the universe
This inferred mass is consistent with an intermediate black hole, a cosmic beast midway between stellar mass black holes, which form after large stars collapse, and the supermassive beasts that sit at the heart of most, if not of the totality, of the galaxies.
Intermediate black holes are elusive; only a few candidates have been discovered to date. And the black mass of NGC 6397 is not one of those privileged ranks.
“The small effective radius of the diffuse dark component suggests that it is composed of compact stars (white dwarfs and neutron stars) and stellar-mass black holes”, authors Eduardo Vitral and Gary…
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