SCYON Abstract

Received on December 20 2005

The luminosity function of young star clusters: implications for the maximum mass and luminosity of clusters

Authors M. Gieles(1), S.S. Larsen(2), N. Bastian(3) and I.T. Stein(1)
(1) Astronomical Institute, Utrecht University, Princetonplein 5, NL-3584 CC Utrecht The Netherlands
(2) European Astronomical Institute, Karl-Schwarzchild-Strasse 2 D-85748 Garching b. München, Germany
(3) Department of Physics and Astronomy, University College London, Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BT
Accepted byAstronomy & Astrophysics


We introduce a method to relate a possible truncation of the star cluster mass function at the high mass end to the shape of the cluster luminosity function (LF). We compare the observed LFs of five galaxies containing young star clusters with synthetic cluster population models with varying initial conditions. The LF of the SMC, the LMC and NGC 5236 are characterized by a power-law behavior NdL ~ LdL, with a mean exponent of α = 2.0 ± 0.2. This can be explained by a cluster population formed with a constant cluster formation rate, in which the maximum cluster mass per logarithmic age bin is determined by the size-of-sample effect and therefore increases with log(age/yr). The LFs of NGC 6946 and M51 are better described by a double power-law distribution or a Schechter function. When a cluster population has a mass function that is truncated below the limit given by the size-of-sample effect, the total LF shows a bend at the magnitude of the maximum mass, with the age of the oldest cluster in the population, typically a few Gyr due to disruption. For NGC 6946 and M51 this implies a maximum mass of Mmax = 5x105Msun. Faint-ward of the bend the LF has the same slope as the underlying initial cluster mass function and bright-ward of the bend it is steeper. This behavior can be well explained by our population model. We compare our results with the only other galaxy for which a bend in the LF has been observed, the "Antennae" galaxies (NGC 4038/4039). There the bend occurs brighter than in NGC 6946 and M51, corresponding to a maximum cluster mass of Mmax = 2x106Msun. Hence, the maximum cluster mass has a physical limit, but can vary between different galaxies. The fact that we only observe this bend in the LF in the "Antennae" galaxies, NGC 6946 and M51 is because there are enough clusters available to reach the limit. In other galaxies there might be a physical limit as well, but the number of clusters formed or observed is so low, that the LF is not sampled up to the luminosity of the bend. The LF can then be approximated with a single power-law distribution, with a slope similar to the initial mass function slope.