The GALAH Survey and Gaia DR2: (Non)existence of four sparse high-latitude open clusters

Sparse open clusters can be found at high galactic latitudes where loosely populated clusters are more easily detected against the lower stellar background. As bursty star formation takes place in the thin disk, the population of clusters far from the Galactic plane is hard to explain. We combined spectral parameters from the GALAH survey with the Gaia DR2 catalogue to study dynamics and chemistry of 5 old sparse high-latitude clusters in more detail. We find that four of them (NGC 1252, NGC 6994, NGC 7772, NGC 7826) - originally classified in 1888 - are not clusters but fluke projections on the sky. Member stars quoted in the literature for these four clusters are unrelated in our multi-dimensional physical parameter space; the published cluster properties are therefore irrelevant. We confirm the existence of morphologically similar NGC 1901 for which we provide a probabilistic membership analysis. An overdensity in three spatial dimensions proves to be enough to reliably detect sparse clusters, but the whole 6-dimensional space must be used to identify members with high confidence, as demonstrated in the case of NGC 1901.