A Census of Above-horizontal-branch Stars in Galactic Globular Clusters

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We have carried out a search for above-horizontal-branch (AHB) stars-objects lying above the horizontal branch (HB) and blueward of the asymptotic giant branch (AGB) in the color-magnitude diagram-in 97 Galactic and seven Magellanic Cloud globular clusters (GCs). We selected AHB candidates based on photometry in the uBVI system, which is optimized for detection of low-surface-gravity stars with large Balmer jumps, in the color range-0.05 ≤ (B-V)0 ≤1.0. We then used Gaia astrometry and Gaussian-mixture modeling to confirm cluster membership and remove field interlopers. Our final catalog contains 438 AHB stars, classified and interpreted in the context of post-HB evolution as follows: (1) AHB1: 280 stars fainter than M V =-0.8, evolving redward from the blue HB (BHB) toward the base of the AGB. (2) Post-AGB (PAGB): 13 stars brighter than M V ≃-2.75, departing from the top of the AGB and evolving rapidly blueward. (3) AHB2: 145 stars, with absolute magnitudes between those of the AHB1 and PAGB groups. This last category includes a mixture of objects leaving the extreme BHB and evolving toward the AGB, and brighter ones moving back from the AGB toward higher temperatures. Among the AHB1 stars are 59 RR Lyrae interlopers, observed by chance in our survey near maximum light. PAGB and AHB2 stars (including W Virginis Cepheids) overwhelmingly belong to GCs containing BHB stars, in accordance with predictions of post-HB evolutionary tracks. We suggest that most W Vir variables are evolving toward lower temperatures and are in their first crossings of the instability strip. Nonvariable yellow PAGB stars show promise as a Population II standard candle for distance measurement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number99
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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