What Are Those Tiny Things? A First Study of Compact Star Clusters in the SMACS0723 Field with JWST

December 2022 • 2022ApJ...941L..11F

Authors • Faisst, Andreas L. • Chary, Ranga Ram • Brammer, Gabriel • Toft, Sune

Abstract • We use the unprecedented resolution and depth of the JWST NIRCam Early Release Observations at 1-5 μm to study the stellar mass, age, and metallicity of compact star clusters in the neighborhood of the host galaxies in the SMACS J0723.3-7327 galaxy cluster field at z = 0.39. The measured colors of these star clusters show a similar distribution as quiescent galaxies at the same redshift, but are >3 mag fainter than the current depths of wide-field galaxy survey. The star clusters are unresolved in the NIRCam/F150W data suggesting sizes smaller than 50 pc. This is significantly smaller than star-forming clumps or dwarf galaxies in local galaxies. From fitting their photometry with simple stellar population (SSP) models, we find stellar metallicities consistent with 0.2-0.3 Z and ages of ${1.5}_{-0.5}^{+0.5}\,\mathrm{Gyr}$ . We rule out metallicities <0.2 Z and solar/supersolar at 4σ significance. Assuming mass-to-light ratios obtained from the best-fit SSP, we estimate stellar masses of ${2.4}_{-1.5}^{+3.0}\times {10}^{6}\,{M}_{\odot }$ . These are between average masses of local globular clusters and dwarf galaxies. Our analysis suggests middle-aged globular cluster with relatively recent formation times at z = 0.5-0.7, which could have been subsequently stripped away from their host galaxies due to interactions in the cluster environment or formed in cold flows onto the cluster core. However, we cannot rule out these objects being compact cores of stripped dwarf galaxies.


IPAC Authors

Ranga-Ram Chary

Senior Scientist


Andreas Faisst

Assistant Scientist