Constraints on intervening stellar populations toward the Large Magellanic Cloud

Dennis Zaritsky, Stephen A. Shectman, Ian Thompson, Jason Harris, D. N.C. Lin

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19 Scopus citations


The suggestion by Zaritsky & Lin (ZL) that a vertical extension of the red clump feature (the VRC) in color-magnitude diagrams (CMDs) of the Large Magellanic Cloud is consistent with a significant population of foreground stars to the LMC that could account for the observed microlensing optical depth has been challenged by various investigators. We respond by (1) examining each of the challenges presented, to determine whether any or all of those arguments invalidate the claims made by ZL, and (2) presenting new photometric and spectroscopic data obtained in an attempt to resolve this issue. We systematically discuss why the objections raised so far do not unequivocally refute ZL's claim. We conclude that although the CMD data do not mandate the existence of a foreground population, they are entirely consistent with a foreground population associated with the LMC that contributes significantly (∼50%) to the observed microlensing optical depth. From our new data, we conclude that ≲40% of the VRC stars are young, massive red clump stars, because (1) synthetic CMDs created using the star formation history derived independently from Hubble Space Telescope data suggest that fewer than 50% of the VRC stars are young, massive red clump stars, (2) the angular distribution of the VRC stars is more uniform than that of the young (<1 Gyr) main-sequence stars, and (3) the velocity dispersion of the VRC stars in the region of the LMC examined by ZL, 18.4 ± 2.8 km s-1 (95% confidence limits), is inconsistent with the expectation for a young disk population. Each of these arguments is predicated on assumptions, and the conclusions are uncertain. Therefore, an exact determination of the contribution to the microlensing optical depth by the various hypothesized foreground populations, and the subsequent conclusions regarding the existence of halo MACHOs, requires a detailed knowledge of many complex astrophysical issues, such as the initial mass function, star formation history, and post-main-sequence stellar evolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2268-2285
Number of pages18
JournalAstronomical Journal
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1999


  • Dark matter
  • Galaxy: halo
  • Magellanic clouds

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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