A new milky way companion: Unusual globular cluster or extreme dwarf satellite?

Beth Willman, Michael R. Blanton, Andrew A. West, Julianne J. Dalcanton, David W. Hogg, Donald P. Schneider, Nicholas Wherry, Brian Yanny, Jon Brinkmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

296 Scopus citations


We report the discovery of SDSS J1049+5103, an overdensity of resolved blue stars at (α 2000, δ 2000) = (162.°343, 51.°051). This object appears to be an old, metal-poor stellar system at a distance of 45 ± 10 kpc, with a half-light radius of 23 ± 10 pc and an absolute magnitude of M V = -3.0 -0.7 +2.0. One star that is likely associated with this Milky Way companion has an SDSS spectrum confirming it as a blue horizontal-branch star at 48 kpc. The color-magnitude diagram of SDSS J1049+5103 contains few, if any, horizontal or red giant branch stars, similar to the anomalously faint globular cluster AM 4. The size and luminosity of SDSS J1049+5103 places it at the intersection of the size-luminosity relationships followed by known globular clusters and by Milky Way dwarf spheroidal galaxies. If SDSS J1049+5103 is a globular cluster, then its properties are consistent with the established trend that the largest radius Galactic globular clusters are all in the outer halo. However, the five known globular clusters with similarly faint absolute magnitudes all have half-mass radii that are smaller than SDSS J1049+5103 by a factor of ≳5. If it is a dwarf spheroidal galaxy, then it is the faintest yet known by 2 orders of magnitude and is the first example of the ultrafaint dwarfs predicted by some theories. The uncertain nature of this new system underscores the sometimes ambiguous distinction between globular clusters and dwarf spheroidal galaxies. A simple friends-of-friends search for similar, blue, small scale length star clusters detected all known globular clusters and dwarfs closer than 50 kpc in the SDSS area but yielded no other candidates as robust as SDSS J1049+5103.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2692-2700
Number of pages9
JournalAstronomical Journal
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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