A supra-massive population of stellar-mass black holes in the globular cluster Palomar 5

Mark Gieles*, Denis Erkal, Fabio Antonini, Eduardo Balbinot, Jorge Peñarrubia

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


Palomar 5 is one of the sparsest star clusters in the Galactic halo and is best known for its spectacular tidal tails, spanning over 20° across the sky. With N-body simulations, we show that both distinguishing features can result from a stellar-mass black hole population, comprising ~20% of the present-day cluster mass. In this scenario, Palomar 5 formed with a ‘normal’ black hole mass fraction of a few per cent, but stars were lost at a higher rate than black holes, such that the black hole fraction gradually increased. This inflated the cluster, enhancing tidal stripping and tail formation. A billion years from now, the cluster will dissolve as a 100% black hole cluster. Initially denser clusters end up with lower black hole fractions, smaller sizes and no observable tails. Black hole-dominated, extended star clusters are therefore the likely progenitors of the recently discovered thin stellar streams in the Galactic halo.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)957-966
Number of pages10
JournalNature Astronomy
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sept-2021

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