Journal Article

Formation and evolution of dwarf elliptical galaxies – II. Spatially resolved star formation histories

Mina Koleva, Sven De Rijcke, Philippe Prugniel, Werner W. Zeilinger and Dolf Michielsen

in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

Published on behalf of The Royal Astronomical Society

Volume 396, issue 4, pages 2133-2151
Published in print July 2009 | ISSN: 0035-8711
Published online July 2009 | e-ISSN: 1365-2966 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2966.2009.14820.x
Formation and evolution of dwarf elliptical galaxies – II. Spatially resolved star formation histories

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We present optical Very Large Telescope spectroscopy of 16 dwarf elliptical galaxies (dEs) comparable in mass to NGC 205, and belonging to the Fornax cluster and to nearby groups of galaxies. Using full-spectrum fitting, we derive radial profiles of the SSP-equivalent ages and metallicities. We make a detailed analysis with ulyss and steckmap of the star formation history in the core of the galaxies and in an aperture of one effective radius. We resolved the history into one to four epochs. The statistical significance of these reconstructions was carefully tested; the two programs give remarkably consistent results.

The old stellar population of the dEs, which dominates their mass, is likely coeval with that of massive ellipticals or bulges, but the star formation efficiency is lower. Important intermediate age (1–5 Gyr) populations and frequently tails of star formation until recent times are detected. These histories are reminiscent of their lower mass dwarf spheroidal counterparts of the Local Group.

Most galaxies (10/16) show significant metallicity gradients, with metallicity declining by 0.5 dex over one half-light radius on average. These gradients are already present in the old population. The flattened (or discy), rotating objects (6/16) have flat metallicity profiles. This may be consistent with a distinct origin for these galaxies or it may be due to their geometry. The central single stellar population equivalent age varies between 1 and 6 Gyr, with the age slowly increasing with radius in the vast majority of objects. The group and cluster galaxies have similar radial gradients and star formation histories.

The strong and old metallicity gradients place important constraints on the possible formation scenarios of dEs. Numerical simulations of the formation of spherical low-mass galaxies reproduce these gradients, but they require a longer time for them to build up. A gentle depletion of the gas, by ram pressure stripping or starvation, could drive the gas-rich, star-forming progenitors to the present dEs.

Keywords: galaxies: dwarf; galaxies: evolution; galaxies: formation; galaxies: stellar content

Journal Article.  13335 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Astronomy and Astrophysics

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