Astronomers Find Globular Clusters Explained Without Dark Matter

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Even the most powerful high-tech telescopes are barely able to record remote low-mass and thus faint stars. Together with researchers from Poland and Chile, an astrophysicist from the University of Zurich has now detected a low-mass star in globular cluster M22 for the first time through microlensing. The result indicates that the overall mass of globular clusters might well be explained without enigmatic dark matter.
 


It has been assumed that low-mass and therefore extremely faint stars must exist. However, in view of the vast distances and weak luminosity of low-mass stars, even the most modern telescopes fail. The image above shows the Milky Way and the globular cluster M22, in which the first low-mass star has now been detected.

Together with a Polish-Chilean team of researchers, Swiss astrophysicist Philippe Jetzer from the University of Zurich has now detected the first low-mass star in the globular cluster M22 indirectly –a dwarf star that has less than a fifth of the mass of our sun and is 3.2 kiloparsecs from it (one kiloparsec corresponding to 3,210 light years).

The evidence, which enables the mass to be determined highly accurately, is based upon so-called gravitational microlensing and requires the highest technical standards available.

In August 2000 Polish astronomers discovered that the brightness of a star located at about two arcminutes from the center of the globular cluster M22 increased for twenty days. They suspected that the phenomenon was due to so-called gravitational microlensing, which is based on the fact that light spreads along a curved path near large masses as opposed to in a straight line.

The brightness of the star increases briefly through the gravitation of an object crossing in front of it, which acts as a lens. The star – the source, in other words – appears brighter for a short time before fading again after passing by the lens. In order to confirm this supposition, the astronomers turned to gravitational microlensing specialist Philippe Jetzer from the University of Zurich.

The control measurement carried out on July 17, 2011 at the Paranal Observatory confirmed the hypothesis. "The detailed analysis revealed that the source was outside M22," explains Jetzer. "A low-mass star acted as a lens within the globular cluster itself."

The first evidence of a low-mass star in a globular cluster is extremely important for astrophysics as it sheds new light on the structure of globular clusters. Until now, the overall mass of globular clusters could not be explained other than with dark matter, the existence of which, however, is also unproven.

"The overall mass or at least a significant proportion of globular clusters can now be explained through the presence of previously undetected low-mass, faint stars," says Jetzer.

The Daily Galaxy by University of Zurich

Image credit: UZH

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