Constraining intermediate-mass black holes in globular clusters

Stefan Umbreit*, Frederic A. Rasio

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Decades after the first predictions of intermediate-mass black holes (IMBHs) in globular clusters (GCs) there is still no unambiguous observational evidence for their existence. The most promising signatures for IMBHs are found in the cores of GCs, where the evidence now comes from the stellar velocity distribution, the surface density profile, and, for very deep observations, the mass-segregation profile near the cluster center. However, interpretation of the data, and, in particular, constraints on central IMBH masses, require the use of detailed cluster dynamical models. Here we present results from Monte Carlo cluster simulations of GCs that harbor IMBHs. As an example of application, we compare velocity dispersion, surface brightness and mass-segregation profiles with observations of the GC M10, and constrain the mass of a possible central IMBH in this cluster. We find that, although M10 does not seem to possess a cuspy surface density profile, the presence of an IMBH with a mass up to 0.75% of the total cluster mass, corresponding to about 600 MȮ, cannot be excluded. This is also in agreement with the surface brightness profile, although we find it to be less constraining, as it is dominated by the light of giants, causing it to fluctuate significantly. We also find that the mass-segregation profile cannot be used to discriminate between models with and without IMBH. The reason is that M10 is not yet dynamically evolved enough for the quenching of mass segregation to take effect. Finally, detecting a velocity dispersion cusp in clusters with central densities as low as in M10 is extremely challenging, and has to rely on only 20-40 bright stars. It is only when stars with masses down to 0.3 MȮ are included that the velocity cusp is sampled close enough to the IMBH for a significant increase above the core velocity dispersion to become detectable.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number26
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 1 2013


  • black hole physics
  • globular clusters: general
  • globular clusters: individual (NGC 6254)
  • methods: numerical
  • stars: kinematics and dynamics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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