It has been suspected for nearly 50 years that clusters of galaxies contain a population of intergalactic stars, ripped from galaxies during cluster formation or when the galaxies’ orbits take them through the cluster center. Support for the existence of such a population of free-floating stars comes from measurements of the diffuse light in clusters and from recent detections of planetary nebulae with positions and/or velocities far removed from any observed cluster galaxy. 10 , 11 But estimates for the mass of the diffuse population and its distribution relative to the galaxies are still highly uncertain. Here we report the direct detection of intergalactic stars in deep images of a blank field in the Virgo Cluster. The data suggest that approximately 10% of the stellar mass of the cluster is in intergalactic stars. We observe a relatively homogeneous distribution of stars, with evidence of a slight gradient toward M87.
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Ferguson, H. C., von Hippel, T., & Tanvir, N. R. (1998). Detection of Intergalactic Red-Giant-Branch Stars in the Virgo Cluster. Nature, 391(). https://doi.org/10.1038/35087