To human eyes, stars seem like some of the most unmoving objects in the universe. From the perspective of thousands of years, however, they swarm like bees.
The Hubble Space Telescope has helped bring to life such motion in 100,000 stars drifting around within a distant celestial blob called Omega Centauri, a globular cluster orbiting the Milky Way galaxy about 16,000 light-years from Earth.
To create the video above, Hubble took photos of Omega Centauri from 2002 to 2006. But the video doesn’t show that period. Instead, it’s a computer-powered projection of the next 10,000 years deduced from the snapshots.
“All of the stars in the cluster are orbiting around the center of the cluster, kind of like bees buzzing around a beehive,” said Jay Anderson, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore who helped model the stars’ motions. “If they weren’t moving then they would all fall into the center.”
Previous studies of the globular cluster — the brightest in the night sky — hinted that a massive black hole may be lurking at the center. But Roeland van der Marel, also an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute who worked on the research, said the motions he and his team helped tease out tell a different story.
“The case for such a black hole is weaker than it was before,” van der Marel said. “If there is a black hole in the center of the cluster, it cannot be as massive as had been previously suggested.”