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The origin of the s-star cluster at the galactic center

Posted June 6, 2013


Scientists Fabio Antonini, of the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics, and David Merritt, of the Rochester Institute of Technology, have developed a new theory that explains the orbits of the massive young stars that closely orbit the black hole at the center of the Milky Way.


The discovery of these stars called “S-stars” provided an unprecedented opportunity for studying the black hole at the galactic center itself, but it also raised new questions: how were massive young stars orbiting in a region too violent for them to have formed there? They could not have formed where they are observed because of the strong gravity of the supermassive black hole, implying that they had to have migrated from further out. When theoreticians produced models explaining the migration of the S-stars toward the center the observed orbits didn’t match the models. Why were the orbits observed different from what was predicted?

Dr. Antonini is offering the best answers to date for this puzzle in his Thursday afternoon talk at the annual meeting of the Canadian Astronomical Society (CASCA). In “The Origin of the S-star Cluster at the Galactic Center,” Antonini is presenting aunified theory for the origin and dynamics of the S-stars.

Explaining how these stars managed to get so close in only tens of millions of years since they formed has been a challenge. “Theories exist for how migration from larger distances has occurred, but have up until now been unable to convincingly explain why the S-stars orbit the galactic center the way they do,” Antonini said. “As main-sequence stars, the S-stars cannot be older than about 100 million years, yet their orbital distribution appears to be ‘relaxed’, contrary to the predictions of models for their origin.” Antonini and Merritt’s model suggests that the S-stars formed farther out from the galactic center, migrated within their lifetime to the region where they are observed and subsequently attained the observed orbital shapes by interacting gravitationally with other stars near the central black hole.

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