Journal Article

A census of nuclear stellar discs in early-type galaxies

H. R. Ledo, M. Sarzi, M. Dotti, S. Khochfar and L. Morelli

in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

Published on behalf of The Royal Astronomical Society

Volume 407, issue 2, pages 969-985
Published in print September 2010 | ISSN: 0035-8711
Published online September 2010 | e-ISSN: 1365-2966 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2966.2010.16990.x
A census of nuclear stellar discs in early-type galaxies

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Nuclear stellar discs (NSDs), of a few tens to hundreds of parsec across, are a common and yet poorly studied feature of early-type galaxies. Still, such small discs represent a powerful tool to constrain the assembling history of galaxies, since they can be used to trace to the epoch when galaxies experienced their last major merger event. By studying the fraction and stellar age of NSDs, it is thus possible to test the predictions for the assembly history of early-type galaxies according to the current hierarchical paradigm for galaxy formation. In this paper we have produced the most comprehensive census of NSDs in nearby early-type galaxies by searching for such discs in objects within 100 Mpc and by using archival images from the Hubble Space Telescope. We found that NSDs are present in approximately 20 per cent of early-type galaxies, and that the fraction of galaxies with NSDs depends neither on their Hubble type nor on their galactic environment, whereas the incidence of NSDs appears to decline in the most massive systems. Furthermore, we have separated the light contribution of 12 such discs from that of their surrounding stellar bulge in order to extract their physical properties. This doubles the number of decomposed NSDs and although the derived values for their central surface brightness and scalelength are consistent with previous studies, they also give a hint of possible different characteristics due to different formation scenario between nuclear discs and other kinds of large galactic discs.

Keywords: galaxies: bulges; galaxies: elliptical and lenticular, cD; galaxies: evolution; galaxies: formation

Journal Article.  5152 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Astronomy and Astrophysics

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