Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
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Galactic and extragalactic studies have shown that metal-rich globular clusters (GCs) are approximately three times more likely to host bright low-mass X-ray binaries (LMXBs) than metal-poor GCs. There is no satisfactory explanation for this metallicity effect. We tested the hypothesis that the number density of red giant branch (RGB) stars is larger in metal-rich GCs, and thus potentially the cause of the metallicity effect. Using Hubble Space Telescope photometry for 109 unique Milky Way GCs, we investigated whether RGB star density was correlated with GC metallicity. Isochrone fitting was used to calculate the number of RGB stars, which were normalized by the GC mass and fraction of observed GC luminosity, and determined density using the volume at the half-light radius (rh). The RGB star number density was weakly correlated with metallicity [Fe/H], giving Spearman and Kendall Rank test p-values of 0.000 16 and 0.000 21 and coefficients rs = 0.35 and τ = 0.24, respectively. This correlation may be biased by a possible dependence of rh on [Fe/H], although studies have shown that rh is correlated with Galactocentric distance and independent of [Fe/H]. The dynamical origin of the rh-metallicity correlation (tidal stripping) suggests that metal-rich GCs may have had more active dynamical histories, which would promote LMXB formation. No correlation between the RGB star number density and metallicity was found when using only the GCs that hosted quiescent LMXBs. A complete census of quiescent LMXBs in our Galaxy is needed to further probe the metallicity effect, which will be possible with the upcoming launch of eROSITA.