Journal Article

The role of minor mergers in the recent star formation history of early-type galaxies

Sugata Kaviraj, Sebastien Peirani, Sadegh Khochfar, Joseph Silk and Scott Kay

in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

Published on behalf of The Royal Astronomical Society

Volume 394, issue 4, pages 1713-1720
Published in print April 2009 | ISSN: 0035-8711
Published online April 2009 | e-ISSN: 1365-2966 | DOI:
The role of minor mergers in the recent star formation history of early-type galaxies

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We demonstrate that the large scatter in the ultraviolet (UV) colours of intermediate-mass early-type galaxies in the local Universe and the inferred low-level recent star formation (RSF) in these objects can be reproduced by minor mergers in the standard Λ cold dark matter (ΛCDM) cosmology. Numerical simulations of mergers with mass ratios ≤1:4, with reasonable assumptions for the ages, metallicities and dust properties of the merger progenitors, produce good agreement with the observed UV colours of the early-type population, if the infalling satellites are assumed to have (cold) gas fractions ≥20 per cent. Early-types that satisfy (NUVr) ≲ 3.8 are likely to have experienced mergers with mass ratios between 1:4 and 1:6 within the last ∼1.5 Gyr, while those that satisfy 3.8 < (NUVr) < 5.5 are consistent with either recent mergers with mass ratios ≤1:6 or mergers with higher mass ratios that occurred more than ∼1.5 Gyr in the past. We demonstrate that the early-type colour–magnitude relations and colour distributions, in both the UV and optical spectral ranges, are consistent with the expected frequency of minor merging activity in the standard ΛCDM cosmology at low redshift. We present a strong plausibility argument for minor mergers to be the principal mechanism behind the large UV scatter and associated low-level RSF observed in early-type galaxies in the nearby Universe.

Keywords: methods: N-body simulations; galaxies: elliptical and lenticular, cD; galaxies: evolution; galaxies: formation

Journal Article.  6319 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Astronomy and Astrophysics

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