Evolution and environment of early-type galaxies

M. Bernardi, Bob Nichol, R. Sheth, C. Miller, J. Brinkmann

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Chemical abundance indicators are studied using composite spectra, which we provide in tabular form. Tables of line strengths measured from these spectra and parameters derived from these line strengths are also provided. From these we find that at fixed luminosity, early-type galaxies in low-density environments are slightly bluer, with stronger O II emission and stronger Hδ and Hγ Balmer absorption lines, indicative of star formation in the not very distant past. These galaxies also tend to have systematically weaker D4000 indices. The Lick indices and α-element abundance indicators correlate weakly but significantly with environment. For example, at fixed velocity dispersion, Mg is weaker in early-type galaxies in low-density environments by 30% of the rms scatter across the full sample, whereas most Fe indicators show no significant environmental dependence. The galaxies in our sample span a redshift range that corresponds to look-back times of ~1 Gyr. We see clear evidence for evolution of line-index strengths over this time. Since the low-redshift population is almost certainly a passively aged version of the more distant population, age is likely the main driver for any observed evolution. We use the observed redshift evolution as a model-independent clock to identify indicators that are more sensitive to age than to other effects such as metallicity. In principle, for a passively evolving population, comparison of the trends with redshift and environment constrain how strongly the luminosity-weighted ages and metallicities depend on environment. We develop a method for doing this that does not depend on the details of stellar population synthesis models. Our analysis suggests that the galaxies that populate the densest regions in our sample are older by ~1 Gyr than objects of the same luminosity in the least dense regions, and that metallicity differences are negligible. We also use single-burst stellar population synthesis models, which allow for nonsolar α-element abundance ratios, to interpret our data. The combination of Hβ, Mg b, and Fe lines suggests that age, metallicity, and α-enhancement all increase with velocity dispersion. The objects at lower redshifts are older but have the same metallicities and α-enhancements as their counterparts of the same σ at higher redshifts, as expected if the low-redshift sample is a passively aged version of the sample at higher redshifts. In addition, objects in dense environments are less than 1 Gyr older and α-enhanced by ~0.02 relative to their counterparts of the same velocity dispersion in less dense regions, but the metallicities show no dependence on environment. This suggests that in dense regions, the stars in early-type galaxies formed at slightly earlier times and on a slightly shorter timescale than in less dense regions. Using HγF instead of Hβ leads to slightly younger ages but the same qualitative differences between environments. In particular, we find no evidence that objects in low-density regions are more metal-rich
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1288-1317
Number of pages30
JournalThe Astronomical Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2006


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