The effect of binaries on the dynamical mass determination of star clusters

M. B.N. Kouwenhoven*, R. De Grijs

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Citations (Scopus)


The total mass of distant star clusters is often derived from the virial theorem, using line-of-sight velocity dispersion measurements and half-light radii. Although most stars form in binary systems, this is mostly ignored when interpreting the observations. The components of binary stars exhibit orbital motion, which may increase the measured velocity dispersion, and may therefore result in a dynamical mass overestimation. In this paper we quantify the effect of neglecting the binary population on the derivation of the dynamical mass of a star cluster. We simulate star clusters numerically, and study the dependence of the derived dynamical mass on the properties of the binary population. We find that the presence of binaries plays a crucial role for very sparse clusters with a stellar density comparable to that of the field star population (~0.1 stars pc), as the velocity dispersion is fully dominated by the binary orbital motion. For such clusters, the dynamical mass may overestimate the true mass by up to an order of magnitude. For very dense clusters (10 stars pc), binaries do not affect the dynamical mass estimation significantly. For clusters of intermediate density (- stars pc), the dynamical mass can be overestimated by 10-100%, depending on the properties of the binary population.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-114
Number of pages12
JournalAstronomy and Astrophysics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Galaxies: star clusters
  • Methods: N-body simulations
  • Stars: binaries: general


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