Constraints on the merger models of elliptical galaxies from their globular cluster systems

Markus Kissler-Patig, Duncan A. Forbes, Dante Minniti

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40 Citations (Scopus)


The discovery of protoglobular cluster candidates in many present-day mergers allows us to understand better the possible effects of a merger event on the globular cluster system of a galaxy, and to foresee the properties of the end-product. By comparing these expectations with the properties of globular cluster systems of elliptical galaxies at the present time we can constrain merger models. The observational data indicate that (i) every gaseous merger induces the formation of new star clusters, and (ii) the number of new clusters formed in such a merger increases with the gas content of the progenitor galaxies. Low-luminosity (about MV > -21), discy ellipticals are generally thought to be the result of a gaseous merger. As such, new globular clusters are expected to form but have not been detected to date. We investigate various reasons for the non-detection of subpopulations in low-luminosity ellipticals, i.e. absence of an old population, absence of a new population, destruction of one of the populations and, finally, an age-metallicity conspiracy that allows old and new globular clusters to appear indistinguishable at the present epoch. All of these possibilities lead us to a similar conclusion, namely that low-luminosity ellipticals did not form recently (z < 1) in a gas-rich merger, and might not have formed in a major merger of stellar systems at all. High-luminosity ellipticals do reveal globular cluster subpopulations. However, it is difficult to account for the two populations in terms of mergers alone and, in particular, we can rule out scenarios in which the second subpopulation is the product of a recent, gas-poor merger.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1123-1132
Number of pages10
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 21 Aug 1998


  • Galaxies: elliptical and lenticular, cD
  • Galaxies: interactions
  • Galaxies: star clusters

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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