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Orbital motions from binary stars can broaden the observed line-of-sight velocity distribution of a stellar system and artificially inflate the measured line-of-sight velocity dispersion, which can in turn lead to erroneous conclusions about the dynamical state of the system. Recently, a maximum-likelihood procedure was proposed to recover the intrinsic velocity dispersion of a resolved star cluster from a single epoch of radial velocity data of individual stars, which was achieved by simultaneously fitting the intrinsic velocity distribution of the single stars and the centers of mass of the binaries along with the velocity shifts caused by binary orbital motions. Assuming well-characterized binary properties, this procedure can accurately reproduce intrinsic velocity dispersions below 1 km s -1 for solar-type stars. Here we investigate the systematic offsets induced when the binary properties are uncertain and we show that two epochs of radial velocity data with an appropriate baseline can help to mitigate these systematic effects. We first test the method described above using Monte Carlo simulations, taking into account the large uncertainties in the binary properties of OB stars. We then apply it to radial velocity data in the young massive cluster R136 for which the intrinsic velocity dispersion of O-type stars is known from an intensive multi-epoch approach. For typical velocity dispersions of young massive clusters (≳4 km s -1 ) and with a single epoch of data, we demonstrate that the method can just about distinguish between a cluster in virial equilibrium and an unbound cluster. This is due to the higher spectroscopic binary fraction and more loosely constrained distributions of orbital parameters of OB stars compared to solar-type stars. By extending the maximum-likelihood method to multi-epoch data, we show that the accuracy on the fitted velocity dispersion can be improved by only a few percent by using only two epochs of radial velocities. This procedure offers a promising method of accurately measuring the intrinsic stellar velocity dispersion in other systems for which the binary properties are poorly constrained, for example, young clusters and associations whose luminosity is dominated by OB stars. © 2014 ESO.

Original publication




Journal article


Astronomy and Astrophysics

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