Driving factors behind multiple populations

Ruoyun Huang, Baitian Tang, Chengyuan Li, Doug Geisler, Mario Mateo, Ying Yi Song, Holger Baumgardt, Julio A. Carballo-Bello, Yue Wang, Jundan Nie, Bruno Dias, José G. Fernández-Trincado

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Star clusters were historically considered simple stellar populations, with all stars sharing the same age and initial chemical composition. However, the presence of chemical anomalies in globular clusters (GCs), called multiple stellar populations (MPs), has challenged star formation theories in dense environments. Literature studies show that mass, metallicity, and age are likely controlling parameters for the manifestation of MPs. Identifying the limit between clusters with/without MPs in physical parameter space is crucial to reveal the driving mechanism behind their presence. In this study, we look for MP signals in Whiting 1, which is traditionally considered a young GC. Using the Magellan telescope, we obtained low-resolution spectra within λλ = 3850–5500 Å for eight giants of Whiting 1. We measured the C and N abundances from the CN and CH spectral indices. C and N abundances have variations comparable with their measurement errors (∼ 0.1 dex), suggesting that MPs are absent from Whiting 1. Combining these findings with literature studies, we propose a limit in the metallicity vs. cluster compactness index parameter space, which relatively clearly separates star clusters with/without MPs (GCs/open clusters). This limit is physically motivated. On a larger scale, the galactic environment determines cluster compactness and metallicity, leading to metal-rich, diffuse, old clusters formed ex situ. Our proposed limit also impacts our understanding of the formation of the Sagittarius dwarf galaxy: star clusters formed after the first starburst (age≲ 8–10 Gyr). These clusters are simple stellar populations because the enriched galactic environment is no longer suitable for MP formation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number259513
JournalScience China: Physics, Mechanics and Astronomy
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2024


  • globular clusters
  • multiple stellar populations
  • open clusters

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Physics and Astronomy


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