Washington: A galaxy known as M87 has thrown an entire star cluster named HVGC-1 (hypervelocity globular cluster) is now on a fast journey to nowhere.
Nelson Caldwell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Caldwell is lead author on the study, said astronomers have found runaway stars before, but this is the first time we`ve found a runaway star cluster.
Globular clusters are relics of the early universe and usually contain thousands of stars crammed into a ball a few dozen light-years across. The Milky Way galaxy is home to about 150 globular clusters. The giant elliptical galaxy M87, in contrast, holds thousands.
It took a stroke of luck to find HVGC-1. The discovery team has spent years studying the space around M87. They first sorted targets by color to separate stars and galaxies from globular clusters. Then they used the Hectospec instrument on the MMT Telescope in Arizona to examine hundreds of globular clusters in detail.
A computer automatically analyzed the data and calculated the speed of every cluster. Any oddities were examined by hand. Most of those turned out to be glitches, but HVGC-1 was different. Its surprisingly high velocity was real.
One scenario that explains the reason could be that the star cluster wandered too close to those black holes. Many of its outer stars were plucked off, but the dense core of the cluster remained intact. The two black holes then acted like a slingshot, flinging the cluster away at tremendous speed.
HVGC-1 is moving so fast that it is doomed to escape M87 altogether. In fact, it may have already left the galaxy and be sailing out into intergalactic space.
The study has been published online in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.