Letter | Published:

Detection of intergalactic red-giant-branch stars in the Virgo cluster

Nature volume 391, pages 461463 (29 January 1998) | Download Citation

Subjects

Abstract

It has been suspected for nearly 50 years that galaxy clusters contain a population of intergalactic stars ripped from the galaxies during cluster formation, or when the galactic orbits pass through the cluster centre1,2,3. Observational support for theexistence of such a stellar population is provided both by measurements of the diffuse light in clusters4,5,6,7,8,9, and by the recent detection of planetary nebulae with positions or velocities far removed from any observable cluster galaxy10,11. But estimates for the mass of the diffuse population and its distribution relative to the cluster galaxies are still highly uncertain. Here we report the direct detection of intergalactic stars in deep images of a blank field in the Virgo cluster. The data suggest that these stars form approximately one-tenth of the total stellar mass of the cluster. We observe a relatively homogeneous distribution of stars, with evidence of a slight gradient towards M87.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

References

  1. 1.

    The Coma cluster of galaxies. Publ. Astron. Soc. Pacif. 63, 61–71 (1951).

  2. 2.

    Relaxation and tidal stripping in rich clusters of galaxies. ii — Evolution of the luminosity distribution. Astrophys. J. 276, 26–37 (1984).

  3. 3.

    , , , & Galaxy harassment and the evolution of clusters of galaxies. Nature 379, 613–616 (1996).

  4. 4.

    The apparent density of matter in groups and clusters of galaxies. Astrophys. J. 131, 585–597 (1960).

  5. 5.

    Visual background radiation in the Coma cluster of galaxies. Bull. Am. Astron. Soc. 1, 191 (1969).

  6. 6.

    & Photographic measurements of diffuse light in the Coma cluster. Publ. Astron. Soc. Pacif. 89, 466–473 (1977).

  7. 7.

    Diffuse light in dense clusters of galaxies. i — R-band observations of Abell 2029. Astrophys. J. 369, 46–53 (1991).

  8. 8.

    Detection of intracluster light in the rich clusters of galaxies Abell 2390 and cl1613+31. Astron. Astrophys. 283, 37–50 (1994).

  9. 9.

    & Diffuse light in A2670: Smoothly distributed? Astrophys. J. 423, 566–580 (1994).

  10. 10.

    The kinematics of the planetary nebulae in the outer regions of NGC 4406. Astrophys. J. 472, 145–152 (1996).

  11. 11.

    & Intergalactic stars in the Fornax cluster. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 284, L11–L15 (1996).

  12. 12.

    Effects of galaxy collisions on the structure and evolution of galaxy. Astrophys. J. 268, 495–512 (1983).

  13. 13.

    , & On the destruction and overmerging of dark halos in dissipationless n-body simulations. Astrophys. J. 457, 455–459 (1996).

  14. 14.

    Statistical analysis of catalogs of extragalactic objects vi. The galaxy distribution in the jagellonian field. Astrophys. J. 196, 647–652 (1975).

  15. 15.

    , & The evolution in clustering of galaxies to R = 26. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 275, 781–789 (1995).

  16. 16.

    , , , & Theoretical isochrones from models with new radiative opacities. Astron. Astrophys. Suppl. Ser. 106, 275–302 (1994).

  17. 17.

    Detection of the tip of the red giant branch in NGC 3379 (M105) in the Leo I group using the Hubble Space Telescope. Astrophys. J. 478, 49–57 (1997).

  18. 18.

    , , & Photographic and CCD surface photometry of the standard elliptical galaxy NGC3379. Astron. J. 99, 1813–1822 (1990).

  19. 19.

    , , & Determination of the Hubble constant from observations of cepheid variables in the galaxy M96. Nature 377, 27–31 (1995).

  20. 20.

    & Infall of galaxies into the Virgo cluster and some cosmological constraints. Astrophys. J. 281, 31–55 (1984).

  21. 21.

    , & Studies of the Virgo cluster. ii — a catalog of 2096 galaxies in the Virgo cluster area. Astron. J. 90, 1681–1771 (1985).

  22. 22.

    , & Photographic and CCD surface photometry of 33 early-type galaxies in the Virgo cluster. Astron. Astrophys. Suppl. Ser. 86, 429–471 (1990).

  23. 23.

    Distance to the Virgo cluster galaxy M100 from Hubble Space Telescope observations of cepheids. Nature 371, 757–762 (1994).

  24. 24.

    & An alternative calculation of the distance to M87 using the Whitmore et al. luminosity function for its globular clusters: H0 therefrom. Astrophys. J. 464, L51–L54 (1996).

  25. 25.

    & ARosat determination of the mass of the central Virgo cluster. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 274, 1093–1106 (1995).

  26. 26.

    , & Astrophys. J.417, 553–559 (1993).

  27. 27.

    Detection of the tip of the red giant branch in NGC5128. Astrophys. J. 465, 79–90 (1996).

  28. 28.

    The photometric performance and calibration of WFPC2. Publ. Astron. Soc. Pacif. 107, 1065–1093 (1995).

  29. 29.

    The extragalaxtic distance scale key project. V. Photometry of the brightest stars in M100 and the calibration of WFPC2. Astrophys. J. (in the press).

  30. 30.

    & Reddening estimates for galaxies in the second reference catalog and the Uppsala general catalog. Astrophys. J. Suppl. Ser. 54, 33–79 (1984).

  31. 31.

    The Hubble deep field: Observations, data reduction, and galaxy photometry. Astron. J. 112, 1335–1389 (1996).

  32. 32.

    The luminosity function and stellar evolution. Astrophys. J. 121, 161–167 (1955).

  33. 33.

    DAOPHOT-A computer program for crowded-field stellar photometry. Publ. Astron. Soc. Pacif. 99, 191–222 (1987).

Download references

Acknowledgements

We thank S. Sakai, R. Soria and C. Grillmair for providing stellar photometry from nearby galaxies for comparison to the Virgo Cluster data; M. Dickinson for the use of the 3C210 comparison field; to A. Fruchter and R. Hook for use of the ‘drizzle’ code; V. Rubin, F. Schweizer and A.Saha for discussions; and the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism for hospitality (T.v.H.). T.v.H. was partially supported by the Edgar P. and Nona B. McKinney Charitable Trust. This work was also supported by NASA through a General Observer research grant awarded by Space Telescope Science Institute, which is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy.

Author information

Author notes

    • Ted von Hippel

    Present address: WIYN Telescope, NOAO, PO Box 26732, Tucson, Arizona 85726, USA.

Affiliations

  1. *Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Maryland 21218, USA

    • Henry C. Ferguson
  2. †University of Cambridge, Institute of Astronomy, Madingley Road, Cambridge CB3 0HA, UK

    • Nial R. Tanvir
  3. ‡Department of Astronomy, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA

    • Ted von Hippel

Authors

  1. Search for Henry C. Ferguson in:

  2. Search for Nial R. Tanvir in:

  3. Search for Ted von Hippel in:

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Henry C. Ferguson.

About this article

Publication history

Received

Accepted

Published

DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/35087

Further reading

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.