Mass Segregation in Globular Cluster 47 Tucanae
A seven year study with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has provided astronomers with the best observational evidence yet that globular clusters sort out stars according to their mass, governed by the gravitational interaction between the stars. Heavier stars slow down and sink to the cluster's core, while lighter stars pick up speed and move across the cluster to its periphery. This process, called mass segregation, has long been suspected for globular star clusters, but has never before been directly seen in action.
A photo of the globular star cluster 47 Tucanae taken with the Very Large Telescope, in Chile. It is one of the densest globular clusters in the Southern hemisphere. The cluster contains one million stars.
An NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope colour photo of the core of 47 Tucanae. Multiple photos of this region allowed astronomers to track the proper motions of the individual stars. Precise velocities were obtained for nearly 15 000 stars in the cluster. This image was taken with Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys.
The international team was made of the following scientists: D.E. McLaughlin (University of Leicester, UK), J. Anderson (Rice University, USA), G. Meylan (École Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, Switzerland), K. Gebhardt (University of Texas at Austin, USA), C. Pryor (Rutgers University, USA), D. Minniti (Pontifica Universidad Catolica, Chile), and S. Phinney (Caltech, USA).