Astronomers theorize that a black hole forms when a massive object shrinks catastrophically under its own gravity, leaving only a gravitational field so strong that nothing escapes it. Astronomers must infer the existence of black holes, which are invisible, from their gravitational influence on the visible bodies surrounding them. For example, observations indicate that gas clouds in galaxy M87 are whirling unusually fast about the galaxy's center. Most astronomers believe that the large concentration of mass at the galaxy's center is a black hole whose gravity is causing the gas to whirl. A few skeptics have argued that the concentration of mass necessary to explain the speed of the whirling gas is not necessarily a black hole: the concentration in M87 might be a cluster of a billion or so dim stars.

The same hypothesis might have been applied to the galaxy NGC 4258, but the notion of such a cluster's existing in NGC 4258 was severely undermined when astronomers measured the speed of a ring of dust and gas rotating close to the galaxy's center. From its speed, they calculated that the core's density is more than 40 times the density estimated for any other galaxy. If the center of NGC 4258 were a star cluster, the stars would be so closely spaced that collisions between individual stars would have long ago torn the cluster apart.

Which of the following, if true, would most clearly undermine the possible explanation for the whirling gas in M87 that is mentioned in the last sentence of the first paragraph?

The stars in a star cluster at the center of M87 could exert a strong gravitational force without tearing the cluster apart.

A cluster of stars at the center would preclude the existence of certain other astronomical phenomena that have been observed at the center of M87.

The stars within many existing galaxies, such as NGC 4258, are more closely spaced than are the stars within the core of M87.

Only one other galaxy has been observed to contain gas clouds whirling about its center as they do about the core of M87.

The gravitational force of a cluster of a billion or so dim stars would be sufficient to cause a whirling ring of gas and dust to collect around the center of a galaxy.


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