News Release Archive:

News Release 864 of 1045

November 8, 1995 12:00 AM (EST)

News Release Number: STScI-1995-06

Hubble Peers Deep into the Crowded Heart of the Densest Known Star Cluster

November 8, 1995: By pinpointing individual suns in the glare of the most tightly packed cluster of stars in our galaxy, the Hubble telescope has unveiled hints of either a massive black hole or another remarkable phenomenon: a "core collapse" driven by the intense gravitational pull of so many stars in such a small volume of space.

Astronomers used the telescope's sharp images to count an extraordinary number of stars in the ancient globular cluster M15, about 37,000 light-years from Earth. Hubble spied hundreds of stars in a tiny area at the center of this cluster. Careful analysis of the distribution of these and thousands of neighboring stars suggest that at some point in the distant past, the stars converged on M15's core, like bees swarming to their hive. An alternate scenario also could explain the pileup of stars at M15's core: a black hole that may have formed early in the cluster's history. The black hole would have gradually gained mass as more stars spiraled inward. The black-and-white picture shows the cluster's central region; the color image is a close-up of the core.

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Credit: P. Guhathakurta (UCO/Lick Observatory, UC Santa Cruz), B. Yanny (Fermi National Accelerator Lab), D. Schneider (Pennsylvania State Univ.), J. Bahcall (Inst. for Advanced Study), and NASA.