Retention of Stellar-mass Black Holes in Globular Clusters

Meagan Morscher, Stefan Umbreit, Will M Farr, Frederic A Rasio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

94 Citations (Scopus)


Globular clusters should be born with significant numbers of stellar-mass black holes (BHs). It has been thought for two decades that very few of these BHs could be retained through the cluster lifetime. With masses ~10 M ⊙, BHs are ~20 times more massive than an average cluster star. They segregate into the cluster core, where they may eventually decouple from the remainder of the cluster. The small-N core then evaporates on a short timescale. This is the so-called Spitzer instability. Here we present the results of a full dynamical simulation of a globular cluster containing many stellar-mass BHs with a realistic mass spectrum. Our Monte Carlo simulation code includes detailed treatments of all relevant stellar evolution and dynamical processes. Our main finding is that old globular clusters could still contain many BHs at present. In our simulation, we find no evidence for the Spitzer instability. Instead, most of the BHs remain well mixed with the rest of the cluster, with only the innermost few tens of BHs segregating significantly. Over the 12 Gyr evolution, fewer than half of the BHs are dynamically ejected through strong binary interactions in the cluster core. The presence of BHs leads to long-term heating of the cluster, ultimately producing a core radius on the high end of the distribution for Milky Way globular clusters (and those of other galaxies). A crude extrapolation from our model suggests that the BH-BH merger rate from globular clusters could be comparable to the rate in the field.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)L15
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jan 2013


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