The dynamical evolution of stellar black holes in globular clusters

Meagan Morscher, Bharath Pattabiraman, Carl Rodriguez, Frederic A. Rasio, Stefan Umbreit

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

194 Scopus citations


Our current understanding of the stellar initial mass function and massive star evolution suggests that young globular clusters (GCs) may have formed hundreds to thousands of stellar-mass black holes (BHs), the remnants of stars with initial masses from ∼20-100 M . Birth kicks from supernova explosions may eject some BHs from their birth clusters, but most should be retained. Using a Monte Carlo method we investigate the long-term dynamical evolution of GCs containing large numbers of stellar BHs. We describe numerical results for 42 models, covering a broad range of realistic initial conditions, including up to 1.6 × 106 stars. In almost all models we find that significant numbers of BHs (up to ∼103) are retained all the way to the present. This is in contrast to previous theoretical expectations that most BHs should be ejected dynamically within a few gigayears The main reason for this difference is that core collapse driven by BHs (through the Spitzer "mass segregation instability") is easily reverted through three-body processes, and involves only a small number of the most massive BHs, while lower-mass BHs remain well-mixed with ordinary stars far from the central cusp. Thus the rapid segregation of stellar BHs does not lead to a long-term physical separation of most BHs into a dynamically decoupled inner core, as often assumed previously. Combined with the recent detections of several BH X-ray binary candidates in Galactic GCs, our results suggest that stellar BHs could still be present in large numbers in many GCs today, and that they may play a significant role in shaping the long-term dynamical evolution and the present-day dynamical structure of many clusters.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number9
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 10 2015


  • binaries: close
  • globular clusters: general
  • gravitational waves
  • methods: numerical
  • stars: black holes
  • stars: kinematics and dynamics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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