A massive black hole has, for the first time, revealed its bling — a string of star clusters arranged like a stellar ‘String of Pearls.’

Using the infrared telescopes at the Keck Observatory atop Hawaii’s Mauna Kea, astronomers were able to cut through the light-blocking dust surrounding the supermassive black hole in the center of the galaxy NGC2110 in the constellation of Orion. NGC2110 is 120 million light-years away.

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As they zoomed in on the galactic center, astronomer Jeremy Mould and PhD student Mark Durré from Swinburne’s Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing, Australia, spotted four hidden star clusters all tightly wrapped around the black hole.

“These star clusters hadn’t been seen before because they are hidden by dust clouds around the black hole and because they appear very tiny, but they can be observed in infrared radiation that penetrates the clouds,” said Durré.

“Our own galaxy, the Milky Way, has a black hole that is almost four million times the mass of our sun — NGC2110 has a black hole about 100 times bigger.”

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NGC2110′s central black hole is very active, pulling in matter and spewing out intense radiation and jets of speeding gas. Although black holes have a bad rap for destroying an eating matter, in this case, computer simulations reveal that the black hole’s tides were likely key to the clusters’ initial formation. Stellar winds from the hundreds of stars contained in each cluster also likely spew out powerful stellar winds that, in turn, feed the black hole.

“After many millions of years, these clusters will be torn apart, again by tidal forces, and gradually settle into a central collection closer around the black hole,” added Durré.