Globular clusters are extremely dense stellar systems, which host stars that are closely packed together. These systems are also typically very old — the globular cluster at the focus of this study, NGC 6397, is almost as old as the universe itself. This cluster resides 7,800 light-years away, making it one of the closest globular clusters to Earth. Due to its very dense nucleus, it is known as a core-collapsed cluster.
At first, astronomers thought the globular cluster hosted an intermediate-mass black hole. These are the long-sought “missing link” between supermassive black holes (many millions of times our Sun’s mass) that lie at the cores of galaxies, and stellar-mass black holes (a few times our Sun’s mass) that form following the collapse of a single massive star. Their mere existence is hotly debated. Only a few candidates have been identified to date.
The researchers used previous estimates of the stars’ tiny proper motions (their apparent motions on the sky), which allow for determining their true velocities within the cluster. These precise measurements for stars in the cluster’s core could only be made with Hubble over several years of observation. The Hubble data were added to well-calibrated ...