EDP Sciences
Free access
Volume 475, Number 3, December I 2007
Page(s) 851 - 857
Section Galactic structure, stellar clusters, and populations
DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.1051/0004-6361:20078450

A&A 475, 851-857 (2007)
DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361:20078450

On the efficiency of field star capture by star clusters

S. Mieske1 and H. Baumgardt2

1  European Southern Observatory, Karl-Schwarzschild-Strasse 2, 85748 Garching bei München, Germany
    e-mail: smieske@eso.org
2  Argelander-Institut für Astronomie, Auf dem Hügel 71, 53121 Bonn, Germany
    e-mail: holger@astro.uni-bonn.de

(Received 9 August 2007 / Accepted 30 August 2007 )

Context.An exciting recent finding regarding scaling relations among globular clusters is the so-called "blue tilt": clusters of the blue sub-population follow a trend to become redder with increasing luminosity.
Aims.In this paper, we evaluate to what extent field star capture over a Hubble time changes the photometric properties of star clusters. Given that field stars in early type giant galaxies are very metal-rich, their capture will make blue globular clusters redder and may in principle explain the "blue tilt".
Methods.We perform collisional N-body simulations to quantify the amount of field star capture occuring over a Hubble time to star clusters with 103 to 106 stars. In the simulations we follow the orbits of field stars passing through a star cluster and calculate the energy change that the field stars experience due to gravitational interaction with cluster stars during one passage through the cluster. The capture condition is that their total energy after the passage is smaller than the gravitational potential at the cluster's tidal radius. By folding this with the fly-by rates of field stars with an assumed space density as in the solar neighbourhood and a range of velocity dispersions $\sigma$ (15 to 485 km s-1), we derive estimates on the mass fraction of captured field stars as a function of environment.
Results.We find that integrated over a Hubble time, the ratio between captured field stars and total number of clusters stars is very low ($\la$10-4), even for the smallest field star velocity dispersion $\sigma$ = 15 km s-1. This holds for star clusters in the mass range of both open clusters and globular clusters. Furthermore we show that tidal friction has a negligible effect on the energy distribution of field stars after interaction with the cluster. We note that field star capture at the time of cluster formation, when the cluster potential increases with time, is more efficient. However, it cannot explain the trend that more massive star clusters are redder.
Conclusions.Field star capture is not a probable mechanism for creating the colour-magnitude trend of metal-poor globular clusters.

Key words: globular clusters: general -- open clusters and associations: general -- galaxies: kinematics and dynamics -- stars: kinematics

© ESO 2007