Astronomy:NGC 6397

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Short description: Globular cluster of stars in the Milky Way
NGC 6397
A Hubble Space Telescope (HST) image of NGC 6397.
Observation data (J2000 epoch)
Right ascension 17h 40m 42.09s[2]
Declination–53° 40′ 27.6″[2]
Distance7.8 kly (2.4 kpc)[3]
Apparent magnitude (V)+6.68[4]
Apparent dimensions (V)32′.0
Physical characteristics
Mass1.2×105[5] M
Radius34 ly[6]
Metallicity[math]\displaystyle{ \begin{smallmatrix}\left[\ce{Fe}/\ce{H}\right]\end{smallmatrix} }[/math] = –1.76[7] dex
Estimated age13.4 ± 0.8 Gyr[8]
Notable featuresSecond closest globular cluster
Other designationsGCl 74,[4] Lacaille III.11, Dunlop 366, Bennett 98, Caldwell 86
See also: Globular cluster, List of globular clusters

NGC 6397 (also known as Caldwell 86) is a globular cluster in the constellation Ara. It is located about 7,800 light-years from Earth,[3] making it one of the two nearest globular clusters to Earth (the other one being Messier 4). The cluster contains around 400,000 stars,[8] and can be seen with the naked eye under good observing conditions.[9]

NGC 6397 is one of at least 20 globular clusters of the Milky Way Galaxy that have undergone a core collapse,[8] meaning that the core has contracted to a very dense stellar agglomeration.

Astronomical research

Estimating the age of the Milky Way

In 2004, a team of astronomers[8] focused on the cluster to estimate the age of the Milky Way Galaxy. The team consisted of Luca Pasquini, Piercarlo Bonifacio, Sofia Randich, Daniele Galli, and Raffaele G. Gratton. They used the UV-Visual Echelle Spectrograph of the Very Large Telescope at Cerro Paranal to measure the beryllium content of two stars in the cluster. This allowed them to deduce the time elapsed between the rise of the first generation of stars in the entire Galaxy and the first generation of stars in the cluster. This, added to the estimated age of the stars in the cluster, gives an estimate for the age for the Galaxy: about 13.6 billion years, which is nearly as old as the universe itself. This estimate assumes that the NGC 6397 is not older than the Milky Way.

Lower mass limit for stars

In 2006, a study of NGC 6397 using the Hubble Space Telescope was published that showed a clear lower limit in the brightness of the cluster's population of faint stars. The authors deduce that this indicates a lower limit for the mass necessary for stars to develop a core capable of fusion: roughly 0.083 times the mass of the Sun.[10]

Black holes

In February 2021, the core of NGC 6397 was reported to contain a relatively dense concentration of compact objects (white dwarfs, neutron stars and black holes), based on the movement of stars near the core derived from data gathered by the Hubble Space Telescope and the European Space Agency's Gaia spacecraft.[5][11] The total mass of the black holes in this central region has an upper limit of the order of 1,000 solar masses, from many smaller black holes with an estimated average size of 20 solar masses.[12] However, it is also argued that many of these black holes would have been ejected from the cluster's core due to dynamical interactions, which leads to this invisible concentration being formed of mainly white dwarfs and neutron stars, with only very few black holes.[13]


See also


  1. Shapley, Harlow; Sawyer, Helen B. (August 1927), "A Classification of Globular Clusters", Harvard College Observatory Bulletin 849 (849): 11–14, Bibcode1927BHarO.849...11S. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Goldsbury, Ryan et al. (December 2010), "The ACS Survey of Galactic Globular Clusters. X. New Determinations of Centers for 65 Clusters", The Astronomical Journal 140 (6): 1830–1837, doi:10.1088/0004-6256/140/6/1830, Bibcode2010AJ....140.1830G. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Salazar, Doris Elen. "Cosmic 'Yardstick' Measures Distance to One of Universe's Oldest Objects". 
  4. 4.0 4.1 "NGC 6397". SIMBAD. Centre de données astronomiques de Strasbourg. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Vitral, Eduardo; Mamon, Gary A. (2021), "Does NGC 6397 contain an intermediate-mass black hole or a more diffuse inner subcluster?", A&A 646 (A63): A63, doi:10.1051/0004-6361/202039650, Bibcode2021A&A...646A..63V 
  6. distance × sin( diameter_angle / 2 ) = ~34 ly. radius
  7. Forbes, Duncan A.; Bridges, Terry (May 2010), "Accreted versus in situ Milky Way globular clusters", Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 404 (3): 1203–1214, doi:10.1111/j.1365-2966.2010.16373.x, Bibcode2010MNRAS.404.1203F. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 "How Old is the Milky Way ?". Results for NGC 6397. 
  9. Dunlop, Storm (2005). Atlas of the Night Sky. Collins. ISBN 978-0-00-717223-8. 
  10. "HST analysis of faint stars in NGC6397". Results for NGC 6397. 
  11. "Hubble Uncovers Concentration of Small Black Holes". ESA. 11 February 2021. 
  12. Overbye, Dennis (26 February 2021). "Hunting for a Giant Black Hole, Astronomers Found a Nest of Darkness - No Gargantua dwells at the heart of stellar cluster NGC 6397. Instead, a few dozen smaller black holes seem to be swarming around in there, throwing their considerable masses around.". The New York Times. 
  13. Weatherford, Newlin C.; Sourav, Chatterjee; Kremer, Kyle; Rasio, Frederic A. (2020), "A Dynamical Survey of Stellar-mass Black Holes in 50 Milky Way Globular Clusters", The Astrophysical Journal 898 (162): 162, doi:10.3847/1538-4357/ab9f98, Bibcode2020ApJ...898..162W 
  14. "Hubble's view of dazzling globular cluster NGC 6397". 

External links