The ACS Virgo Cluster Survey. XIV. Analysis of color-magnitude relations in globular cluster systems

Steffen Mieske, Andrés Jordán, Patrick Côté, Markus Kissler-Patig, Eric W. Peng, Laura Ferrarese, John P. Blakeslee, Simona Mei, David Merritt, John L. Tonry, Michael J. West

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

94 Scopus citations


We examine the correlation between globular cluster (GC) color and magnitude using HSTACS imaging for a sample of 79 early-type galaxies (-21.7 < MB < -15.2 mag) with accurate SBF distances from the ACS Virgo Cluster Survey. Using the KMM mixture modeling algorithm, we find a highly significant correlation, γZ = d(g - z)/dz = -0.037 ± 0.004, between color and magnitude for the subpopulation of blue GCs in the co-added GC color-magnitude diagram of the three brightest Virgo Cluster galaxies (M49, M87, and M60): brighter GCs are redder than their fainter counterparts. For the single GC systems of M87 and M60, we find similar correlations; M49 does not appear to show a significant trend. There is no correlation between (g - z) and Mz for GCs of the red subpopulation. The correlation γg ≡ d(g-z)/dg for the blue subpopulation is much weaker than d(g - z)/dz. Using Monte Carlo simulations, we attribute this finding to the fact that the blue subpopulation in Mg extends to higher luminosities than does the red subpopulation, which biases the KMM fit results. The correlation between color and Mz thus is a real effect: this conclusion is supported by biweight fits to the same color distributions. We identify two environmental dependencies that influence the derived color-magnitude relation: (1) the slope decreases in significance with decreasing galaxy luminosity; and (2) the slope is stronger for GC populations located at smaller galactocentric distances. We examine several physical mechanisms that might give rise to the observed color-magnitude relation: (1) presence of contaminators; (2) accretion of GCs from low-mass galaxies; (3) stochastic effects; (4) the capture of field stars by individual GCs; and (5) GC self-enrichment. We conclude that self-enrichment and field-star capture, or a combination of these processes, offer the most promising means of explaining our observations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)193-206
Number of pages14
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1 I
StatePublished - 10 Dec 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Galaxies: clusters: individual (Virgo)
  • Galaxies: dwarf
  • Galaxies: fundamental parameters
  • Galaxies: nuclei
  • Galaxies: star clusters
  • Globular clusters: general


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