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  • Cited by 6
  • Print publication year: 1999
  • Online publication date: September 2010

Stellar Dynamics in Globular Clusters

Summary

Globular clusters provide ideal laboratories for studying the dynamical behaviour of N-body systems. If one includes in one's definition of ‘globular cluster’ the young and intermediate age rich star clusters in the Magellanic Clouds, then one has at hand a set of objects that can serve as a testing ground for theories that describe self-gravitating systems of point masses at any stage in their evolution. These different stages include violent relaxation, a gradual approach to quasi-static equilibrium through two-body relaxation, the dramatic collapse, probably followed by oscillations, of the cluster core, and ultimately dissolution of the cluster as it contributes its stars to the parent/host galaxy's field (usually halo) population. Understanding the mechanisms that hasten the dissolution of a cluster can help us reconstruct the original population of clusters in a given galaxy. This in turn can guide theories of globular cluster formation, and, to the extent that globular clusters trace the early stages of galaxy evolution, the formation of galaxies themselves. This chapter provides an overview of the life of a globular cluster (Section 1), derives the time scales relevant to various stages of cluster evolution (Section 2), and discusses the main observable qualities of clusters relevant to their dynamical evolution: their surface brightness profiles (Section 3) and their internal velocity dispersions (Section 4). In Section 5 some recent results from a large HST project to study the formation and evolution of rich star clusters in the Large Magellanic Cloud are described.