Yellow Post-asymptotic-giant-branch Stars as Standard Candles. I. Calibration of the Luminosity Function in Galactic Globular Clusters

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Abstract

We use the results of a survey for low-surface-gravity stars in Galactic (and LMC) globular clusters to show that “yellow” post-asymptotic-branch (yPAGB) stars are likely to be excellent extragalactic standard candles, capable of producing distances to early-type galaxies that are accurate to a couple of percent. We show that the mean bolometric magnitude of the 10 yPAGB stars in globular clusters is 〈Mbol〉 = −3.38 ± 0.03, a value that is ∼0.2 mag brighter than that predicted from the latest post-horizontal-branch evolutionary tracks. More importantly, we show that the observed dispersion in the distribution is only 0.10 mag, i.e., better than the scatter for individual Cepheids. We describe the physics that can produce such a small dispersion and show that, if one restricts surveys to the color range 0.0 ≾ (B − V)0 ≾ 0.5, then samples of nonvariable yPAGB stars can be identified quite easily with a minimum of contamination. The extremely bright absolute V magnitudes of these stars (〈MV〉 = −3.37) make them, by far, the visually brightest objects in old stellar populations and ideal Population II standard candles for measurements out to ∼10 Mpc with current instrumentation. A Hubble Space Telescope survey in the halos of galaxies in the M81 and Sculptor groups could therefore serve as an effective cross-check on both the Cepheid and tip-of-the-red-giant-branch distance scales.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number145
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Volume930
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - May 1 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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