The WAGGS project - II. The reliability of the calcium triplet as a metallicity indicator in integrated stellar light

Christopher Usher, Thomas Beckwith, Sabine Bellstedt, Adebusola Alabi, Leonie Chevalier, Nicola Pastorello, Pierluigi Cerulo, Hannah S. Dalgleish, Amelia Fraser-McKelvie, Sebastian Kamann, Samantha Penny, Caroline Foster, Richard McDermid, Ricardo P. Schiavon, Alexa Villaume

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Using data from the WiFeS Atlas of Galactic Globular cluster Spectra we study the behaviour of the calcium triplet (CaT), a popular metallicity indicator in extragalactic stellar population studies. A major caveat of these studies is that the potential sensitivity to other stellar population parameters such as age, calcium abundance and the initial mass function has not yet been empirically evaluated. Here we present measurements of the strength of the CaT feature for 113 globular clusters in the Milky Way and its satellite galaxies. We derive empirical calibrations between the CaT index and both the iron abundance ([Fe/H]) and calcium abundance ([Ca/H]), finding a tighter relationship for [Ca/H] than for [Fe/H]. For stellar populations 3 Gyr and older the CaT can be used to reliably measure [Ca/H] at the 0.1 dex level but becomes less reliable for ages of ∼2 Gyr and younger. We find that the CaT is relatively insensitive to the horizontal branch morphology. The stellar mass function however affects the CaT strengths significantly only at low metallicities. Using our newly derived empirical calibration, we convert our measured CaT indices into [Ca/H] values for the globular clusters in our sample.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1275-1303
Number of pages29
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number1
Early online date26 Sept 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019


  • Galaxies: abundances
  • Galaxies: star clusters: general
  • Galaxies: stellar content
  • Globular clusters: general
  • Stars: abundances


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