Controversial age spreads from the main sequence turn-off and red clump in intermediate-age clusters in the LMC

F. Niederhofer, N. Bastian, V. Kozhurina-Platais, M. Hilker, S. E. De Mink, I. Cabrera-Ziri, C. Li, B. Ercolano

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Most star clusters at an intermediate age (1-2 Gyr) in the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds show a puzzling feature in their color-magnitude diagrams (CMD) that is not in agreement with a simple stellar population. The main sequence turn-off of these clusters is much broader than expected from photometric uncertainties. One interpretation of this feature is that age spreads of the order of 200-500 Myr exist within individual clusters, although this interpretation is highly debated. Such large age spreads should affect other parts of the CMD, which are sensitive to age, as well. In this study, we analyze the CMDs of a sample of 12 intermediate-age clusters in the Large Magellanic Cloud that all show an extended turn-off using archival optical data taken with the Hubble Space Telescope. We fit the star formation history of the turn-off region and the red clump region independently. We find that in most cases, the age spreads inferred from the red clumps are smaller than those that result from the turn-off region. However, the age ranges that result from the red clump region are broader than expected for a single age. Only two out of 12 clusters in our sample show a red clump which seems to be consistent with a single age. As our results are ambiguous, by fitting the star formation histories to the red clump regions, we cannot ultimately tell if the extended main sequence turn-off feature is the result of an age spread or not. However, we do find that the width of the extended main sequence turn-off feature is correlated with the age of the clusters in a way which would be unexplained in the so-called age spread interpretation, but which may be expected if stellar rotation is the cause of the spread at the turn-off.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberA148
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalAstronomy and Astrophysics
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright 2016 ESO. First published in Astronomy and astrophysics, 586, A148, 2016, published by EDP Sciences. The original publication is available at


  • galaxies: star clusters: general
  • Hertzsprung-Russell and C-M diagrams
  • Magellanic Clouds
  • stars: evolution


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