THE OBSERVATIONAL AND THEORETICAL TIDAL RADII OF GLOBULAR CLUSTERS IN M87 Academic Article uri icon

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abstract

  • Globular clusters have linear sizes (tidal radii) which theory tells us are determined by their masses and by the gravitational potential of their host galaxy. To explore the relationship between observed and expected radii, we utilize the globular cluster population of the Virgo giant M87. Unusually deep, high signal-to-noise images of M87 are used to measure the effective and limiting radii of approximately 2000 globular clusters. To compare with these observations, we simulate a globular cluster population that has the same characteristics as the observed M87 cluster population. Placing these simulated clusters in the well-studied tidal field of M87, the orbit of each cluster is solved and the theoretical tidal radius of each cluster is determined. We compare the predicted relationship between cluster size and projected galactocentric distance to observations. We find that for an isotropic distribution of cluster velocities, theoretical tidal radii are approximately equal to observed limiting radii for Rgc < 10 kpc. However, the isotropic simulation predicts a steep increase in cluster size at larger radii, which is not observed in large galaxies beyond the Milky Way. To minimize the discrepancy between theory and observations, we explore the effects of orbital anisotropy on cluster sizes, and suggest a possible orbital anisotropy profile for M87 which yields a better match between theory and observations. Finally, we suggest future studies which will establish a stronger link between theoretical tidal radii and observed radii.

publication date

  • February 10, 2012