Hubble space telescope evidence for an intermediate-mass black hole in the globular cluster M15. II. Kinematic analysis and dynamical modeling

Joris Gerssen, Roeland P. Van der Marel, Karl Gebhardt, Puragra Guhathakurta, Ruth C. Peterson, Carlton Pryor

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We have used the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) on the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) to obtain high spatial resolution spectroscopy of the central region of the dense globular cluster M15. The observational strategy and data reduction were described in Paper I of this series. Here we analyze the extracted spectra with a cross-correlation technique to determine the line-of-sight velocities of individual stars. Our final STIS velocity sample contains 64 stars, two-thirds of which have their velocity measured for the first time. The new data set triples the number of stars with measured velocities in the central projected R ≤; 1″ of M15 and doubles the number in the central R ≤ 2″. We combine our data with existing ground-based data to obtain nonparametric estimates of the radial profiles of the projected rotation velocity, velocity dispersion, and rms velocity σrms. The results differ from earlier work in the central few arcseconds in that we find that σrms rises to ∼14 km s -1, somewhat higher than the values of 10-12 km s-1 inferred previously from ground-based data. To interpret the results we construct dynamical models based on the Jeans equation for a spherical system. If the velocity distribution is isotropic, then M15 must have a central concentration of non-luminous material. If this is due to a single black hole, then a fit to the full velocity information as function of radius implies that its mass is MBH = (3.9 ± 2.2) × 103 M . The existence of intermediate-mass black holes in globular clusters is consistent with several scenarios for globular cluster evolution proposed in the literature. The inferred mass for M15 is consistent with the extrapolation of the relation between MBH and σrms that has been established for galaxies. Therefore, these results may have important implications for our understanding of the evolution of globular clusters, the growth of black holes, the connection between globular cluster and galaxy formation, and the nature of the recently discovered " ultraluminous " X-ray sources in nearby galaxies. Instead of a single intermediate-mass black hole, M15 could have a central concentration of dark remnants (e.g., neutron stars) due to mass segregation. However, we argue that the best-fitting Fokker-Planck models that have previously been constructed for M15 do not predict a central mass concentration that is sufficient to explain the observed kinematics. To fit the M15 data without any central dark mass concentration one must assume that the velocity distribution is significantly radially anisotropic near the center, which contradicts predictions from both Fokker-Planck and N-body calculations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3270-3288
Number of pages19
JournalAstronomical Journal
Issue number6 1764
StatePublished - Dec 2002

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Globular clusters: individual (M15) - Stars: kinematics


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