Star clusters, galaxies, and the fundamental manifold

Dennis Zaritsky, Ann I. Zabludoff, Anthony H. Gonzalez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


We explore whether global observed properties, specifically half-light radii, mean surface brightness, and integrated stellar kinematics, suffice to unambiguously differentiate galaxies from star clusters, which presumably formed differently and lack dark matter halos. We find that star clusters lie on the galaxy scaling relationship referred to as the fundamental manifold (FM), on the extension of a sequence of compact galaxies, and so conclude that there is no simple way to differentiate star clusters from ultracompact galaxies. By extending the validity of the FM over a larger range of parameter space and a wider set of objects, we demonstrate that the physics that constrains the resulting baryon and dark matter distributions in stellar systems is more general than previously appreciated. The generality of the FM implies (1) that the stellar spatial distribution and kinematics of one type of stellar system do not arise solely from a process particular to that set of systems, such as violent relaxation for elliptical galaxies, but are instead the result of an interplay of all processes responsible for the generic settling of baryons in gravitational potential wells, (2) that the physics of how baryons settle is independent of whether the system is embedded within a dark matter halo, and (3) that peculiar initial conditions at formation or stochastic events during evolution do not ultimately disturb the overall regularity of baryonic settling. We also utilize the relatively simple nature of star clusters to relate deviations from the FM to the age of the stellar population and find that stellar population models systematically and significantly overpredict the mass-to-light ratios of old, metal-rich clusters. We present an empirical calibration of stellar population mass-to-light ratios with age and color. Finally, we use the FM to estimate velocity dispersions for the low surface brightness, outer halo clusters that lack such measurements.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2011


  • Galaxies: clusters general
  • Galaxies: evolution
  • Galaxies: formation
  • Galaxies: general
  • Galaxies: structure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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