We measure the evolution of the galaxy stellar mass function from z = 1.3 to z = 0.5 using the first 53 608 redshifts of the ongoing VIMOS Public Extragalactic Survey (VIPERS). Thanks to its large volume and depth, VIPERS provides a detailed picture of the galaxy distribution at z ≃ 0.8, when the Universe was ≃7 Gyr old. We carefully estimate the uncertainties and systematic effects associated with the SED fitting procedure used to derive galaxy stellar masses. We estimate the galaxy stellar mass function at several epochs between z = 0.5 and 1.3, discussing the amount of cosmic variance affecting our estimate in detail. We find that Poisson noise and cosmic variance of the galaxy mass function in the VIPERS survey are comparable to the statistical uncertainties of large surveys in the local universe. VIPERS data allow us to determine with unprecedented accuracy the high-mass tail of the galaxy stellar mass function, which includes a significant number of galaxies that are too rare to detect with any of the past spectroscopic surveys. At the epochs sampled by VIPERS, massive galaxies had already assembled most of their stellar mass. We compare our results with both previous observations and theoretical models. We apply a photometric classification in the (U − V) rest-frame colour to compute the mass function of blue and red galaxies, finding evidence for the evolution of their contribution to the total number density budget: the transition mass above which red galaxies dominate is found to be about 1010.4 ℳ⊙ at z ≃ 0.55, and it evolves proportionally to (1 + z)3. We are able to separately trace the evolution of the number density of blue and red galaxies with masses above 1011.4 ℳ⊙, in a mass range barely studied in previous work. We find that for such high masses, red galaxies show a milder evolution with redshift, when compared to objects at lower masses. At the same time, we detect a population of similarly massive blue galaxies, which are no longer detectable below z = 0.7. These results show the improved statistical power of VIPERS data, and give initial promising indications of mass-dependent quenching of galaxies at z ≃ 1.
- galaxies: luminosity function, mass function
- galaxies: evolution
- galaxies: statistics
- cosmology: observations