The acs virgo cluster survey. IX. The color distributions of globular cluster systems in early-type galaxies

Eric W. Peng, Andrés Jordán, Patrick Côté, John P. Blakeslee, Laura Ferrarese, Simona Mei, Michael J. West, David Merritt, Milos Milosavljević, John L. Tonry

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

336 Scopus citations


We present the color distributions of globular cluster (GC) systems for 100 early-type galaxies observed in the ACS Virgo Cluster Survey, the deepest and most homogeneous survey of this kind to date. On average, galaxies at all luminosities in our study (-22 < MB < -15) appear to have bimodal or asymmetric GC color distributions. Almost all galaxies possess a component of metal-poor GCs, with the average fraction of metal-rich GCs ranging from 15% to 60% and increasing with luminosity. The colors of both subpopulations correlate with host galaxy luminosity and color, with the red GCs having a steeper slope. To convert color to metallicity, we introduce a preliminary (g - z)-[Fe/H] relation calibrated to Galactic, M49, and M87 GCs. This relation is nonlinear, with a steeper slope for [Fe/H] ≲ -0.8. As a result, the metallicities of the metal-poor and metal-rich GCs vary similarly with respect to galaxy luminosity and stellar mass, with relations of [Fe/H]MP ∝ L0.16±0.04 ∝ M*0.17±0.04 and [Fe/H]MR ∝ L 0.26±0.03 ∝ M*0.22±0.03 respectively. Although these relations are shallower than the mass-metallicity relation predicted by wind models and observed for dwarf galaxies, they are very similar to the relation observed for star-forming galaxies in the same mass range. The offset between the two GC populations is approximately 1 dex across 3 orders of magnitude in mass, suggesting a nearly universal amount of enrichment between the formation of the two populations of GCs. We also find that although the metal-rich GCs show a larger dispersion in color, it is the metal-poor GCs that have an equal or larger dispersion in metallicity. The similarity in the M*-[Fe/H] relations for the two populations implies that the conditions of GC formation for metal-poor and metal-rich GCs could not have been too different. Like the color-magnitude relation, these relations derived from globular clusters present stringent constraints on the formation and evolution of early-type galaxies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95-119
Number of pages25
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1 I
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Galaxies: elliptical and lenticular, cD
  • Galaxies: evolution
  • Galaxies: star clusters
  • Globular clusters: general


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