Probing the Enigmatic Heart of a Celestial Star Cluster

Globular Cluster NGC 6325

The Hubble Space Telescope captured this image of the densely packed globular cluster NGC 6325, aiding astronomers in studying star formation. Researchers are investigating the possibility of a hidden intermediate-mass black hole at its center, which could be influencing the motion of surrounding stars. Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, E. Noyola, R. Cohen

The Hubble Space Telescope captured an image of the globular cluster NGC 6325, located 26,000 light-years away in the Ophiuchus constellation. These clusters, composed of tens of thousands to millions of stars, help astronomers study star formation due to the stars’ similar formation times and compositions.

The densely packed globular cluster NGC 6325 glistens in this image from the Hubble Space Telescope. This concentrated group of stars lies around 26 000 light years from Earth in the constellation Ophiuchus.

Globular clusters like NGC 6325 are tightly bound collections of stars with anywhere from tens of thousands to millions of members. They can be found in all types of galaxies, and act as natural laboratories for astronomers studying star formation. This is because the constituent stars of globular clusters tend to form at roughly the same time and with similar initial composition, meaning that astronomers can use them to fine-tune their theories of how stars evolve. 

Astronomers inspected this particular cluster not to understand star formation, but to search for a hidden monster. Though it might look peaceful, astronomers suspect this cluster could contain an intermediate-mass black hole that is subtly affecting the motion of surrounding stars. Previous research found that the distribution of stars in some highly concentrated globular clusters — those with stars packed relatively tightly together — was slightly different from what astronomers expected.

This discrepancy suggested that at least some of these densely packed globular clusters — including perhaps NGC 6325 — could have a black hole lurking at the center. To explore this hypothesis further, astronomers turned to Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 to observe a larger sample of densely populated globular clusters, which included this star-studded image of NGC 6325. Additional data from Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys were also incorporated into this image.

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