On the origin of bimodal horizontal branches in massive globular clusters: The case of NGC 6388 and NGC 6441

Suk Jin Yoon, Seok Joo Joo, Chang H. Ree, Sang Il Han, Do Gyun Kim, Young Wook Lee

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43 Citations (Scopus)


Despite the efforts of the past decade, the origin of the bimodal horizontal branch (HB) found in some globular clusters (GCs) remains a conundrum. Inspired by the discovery of multiple stellar populations in the most massive Galactic GC, ω Centauri, we investigate the possibility that two distinct populations may coexist and are responsible for the bimodal HBs in the third and fifth brightest GCs, NGC 6388 and NGC 6441. Using the population synthesis technique, we examine two different chemical "self- enrichment" hypotheses in which a primordial GC was sufficiently massive to contain two or more distinct populations as suggested by the populations found in ω Cen: (1) the age-metallicity relation scenario in which two populations with different metallicity and age coexist, following an internal age-metallicity relation, and (2) the super-helium-rich scenario in which GCs contain a certain fraction of helium-enhanced stars, for instance, the second-generation stars formed from the helium-enriched ejecta of the first. The comparative study indicates that the detailed color-magnitude diagram morphologies and the properties of the RR Lyrae variables in NGC 6388 and NGC 6441 support the latter scenario: i.e., the model which assumes a minor fraction (∼15%) of helium excess (Y ≃ 0.3) stars. The results suggest that helium content is the main driver behind the HB bimodality found most often in massive GCs. If confirmed, the GC-to-GC variation of helium abundance should be considered a local effect, further supporting the argument that age is the global second parameter of HB morphology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1080-1090
Number of pages11
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2008 Apr 20

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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