The age of globular clusters in light of hipparcos: Resolving the age problem?

Brian Chaboyer, P. Demarque, Peter J. Kernan, Lawrence M. Krauss

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229 Scopus citations


We review five independent techniques that are used to set the distance scale to globular clusters, including subdwarf main-sequence fitting utilizing the recent Hipparcos parallax catalog. These data together all indicate that globular clusters are farther away than previously believed, implying a reduction in age estimates. We now adopt a best-fit value Mv (RR Lyrae stars) = 0.39 ± 0.08 (statistical) at [Fe/H] = -1.9 with an additional uniform systematic uncertainty of -0.18+0.13. This new distance scale estimate is combined with a detailed numerical Monte Carlo study (previously reported by Chaboyer et al.) designed to assess the uncertainty associated with the theoretical age-turnoff luminosity relationship in order to estimate both the absolute age and uncertainty in age of the oldest globular clusters. Our best estimate for the mean age of the oldest globular clusters is now 11.5 ± 1.3 Gyr, with a onesided 95% confidence level lower limit of 9.5 Gyr. This represents a systematic shift of over 2 σ compared to our earlier estimate, owing completely to the new distance scale - a shift which we emphasize results not only from the Hipparcos data. This now provides a lower limit on the age of the universe that is consistent with either an open universe or with a fiat matter-dominated universe (the latter requiring H0 ≤ 67 km s-1 Mpc-1). Our new study also explicitly quantifies how remaining uncertainties in the distance scale and stellar evolution models translate into uncertainties in the derived globular cluster ages. Simple formulae are provided that can be used to update our age estimate as improved determinations for various quantities become available. Formulae are also provided that can be used to derive the age and its uncertainty for a globular cluster, given the absolute magnitude of the turnoff or the point on the subgiant branch 0.05 mag redder than the turnoff.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)96-110
Number of pages15
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1 PART I
StatePublished - 1998
Externally publishedYes


  • Cosmology: Theory
  • Distance scale
  • Globular clusters: General
  • Stars: Evolution
  • Stars: Interiors
  • Stars: Population II

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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