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Keywords:

  • globular clusters: general;
  • galaxies: elliptical and lenticular, cD;
  • galaxies: individual: NGC 4261;
  • galaxies: individual: 3C 270;
  • galaxies: interactions;
  • galaxies: star clusters: general

ABSTRACT

We present an analysis of the globular cluster (GC) population of the elliptical galaxy NGC 4261 based on Hubble Space Telescope Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 data in the B, V and I bands. We study the spatial distribution of the GCs in order to probe the anisotropy in the azimuthal distribution of the discrete X-ray sources in the galaxy revealed by Chandra images. The luminosity function of our GC sample (complete at the 90 per cent level for mV= 23.8 mag) peaks at mV= 25.1inline image mag, which corresponds to a distance consistent with previous measurements. The colour distribution can be interpreted as being the superposition of a blue and red GC component with average colours VI= 1.01inline image mag and 1.27inline image mag, respectively. This is consistent with a bimodal colour distribution typical of elliptical galaxies. The red GC’s radial profile is steeper than that of the galaxy surface brightness, while the profile of the blue subpopulation looks more consistent with it. The most striking finding is the significant asymmetry in the azimuthal distribution of the GC population about a north-east–south-west (NE–SW) direction. The lack of any obvious feature in the morphology of the galaxy suggests that the asymmetry could be the result of an interaction or a merger.