Morphological distortion of galactic globular clusters

C. W. Chen, W. P. Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


The shapes and sizes of 116 Galactic globular clusters (GCs) are presented, based on the analysis of the spatial distribution of 2MASS point sources. In general, Galactic GCs are slightly flattened in shape, with a median axial ratio of 0.87. The GCs close to the Galactic bulge have various degrees of flattening, and those exhibiting obvious flattening tend to have their elongation pointing toward the Galactic center, manifesting the tidal effect from the bulge. In comparison, GCs away from the Galactic center tend to be spherical. A few GCs in the halo are also found to have elongated shape. Three notable cases of highly flattened clusters were previously known to be associated with stellar streams or particular dynamical history: NGC 5897 is known to have a stellar tidal tail extending to its equatorial north and south; NGC 6838 had a recent encounter with the Galactic plane; and IC 4499 is spatially close to, and collimated with, the "Magellanic Stream." We also found 31 GCs associated with possible clumpy structures in stellar distributions, as diagnosed by possible cluster members selected by colors and magnitudes. Four such cases of stellar debris are presented: NGC 6366 is experiencing heavy tidal stripping and NGC 2808 has been known to have multiple main-sequence branches. NGC 3201 and NGC 6397, like the flattened cluster, NGC 6838, also have their recent passage through the Galactic plane. Our sample is derived from the most inclusive analysis of the morphology of Galactic GCs, and should provide a valuable database to probe the mass distribution, or merging history of the Milky Way galaxy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1790-1819
Number of pages30
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2010


  • Galaxy
  • General - stars
  • Kinematics and dynamics
  • Kinematics and dynamics - globular clusters


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