EDP Sciences
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Volume 393, Number 2, October II 2002
Page(s) 461 - 483
Section Extragalactic astronomy
DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.1051/0004-6361:20021023

A&A 393, 461-483 (2002)
DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361:20021023

The blue compact dwarf galaxy I Zw 18: A comparative study of its low-surface-brightness component

P. Papaderos1, Y. I. Izotov2, T. X. Thuan3, K. G. Noeske1, K. J. Fricke1, N. G. Guseva2 and R. F. Green4

1  Universitäts-Sternwarte, Geismarlandstraße 11, 37083 Göttingen, Germany
2  Main Astronomical Observatory, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, 27 Zabolotnoho str., 03680 Kyiv, Ukraine
3  Astronomy Department, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22903, USA
4  National Optical Astronomy Observatory, Tucson, AZ 85726, USA

(Received 31 May 2002 / Accepted 9 July 2002 )

Using HST and ground-based optical and NIR imaging data , , we investigate whether the blue compact dwarf (BCD) galaxy I Zw 18 possesses an extended low-surface-brightness (LSB) old stellar population underlying its star-forming regions, as is the case in the majority of BCDs. This question is central to the long-standing debate on the evolutionary state of I Zw 18. We show that the exponential intensity decrease observed in the filamentary LSB envelope of the BCD out to $\ga$18´´ ( $\ga$1.3 kpc assuming a distance of 15 Mpc) is not due to an evolved stellar disc underlying its star-forming regions, but rather, due to extended ionized gas emission. Ionized gas accounts for more than 80% of the line-of-sight emission at a galactocentric distance of ~0.65 kpc (~3 effective radii), and for $\ga$30% to 50% of the R light of the main body of I Zw 18. Broad-band images reveal, after subtraction of nebular line emission, a relatively smooth stellar host extending slightly beyond the star-forming regions. This unresolved stellar component, though very compact, is not exceptional for intrinsically faint dwarfs with respect to its structural properties. However, being blue over a radius range of ~5 exponential scale lengths and showing little colour contrast to the star-forming regions, it differs strikingly from the red LSB host of standard BCDs. This fact, together with the comparably blue colours of the faint C component, ~1.6 kpc away from the main body of I Zw 18, suggests that the formation of I Zw 18 as a whole has occurred within the last 0.5 Gyr, making it a young BCD candidate. Furthermore, we show that the ionized envelope of I Zw 18 is not exceptional among star-forming dwarf galaxies, neither by its exponential intensity fall-off nor by its scale length. However, contrary to evolved BCDs, the stellar LSB component of I Zw 18 is much more compact than the ionized gas envelope. In the absence of an appreciable underlying stellar population, extended ionized gas emission dominates in the outer parts of I Zw 18, mimicking an exponential stellar disc on optical surface brightness profiles.

Key words: galaxies: dwarf -- galaxies: formation -- galaxies: evolution -- galaxies: structure -- galaxies: starburst -- galaxies: individual (I Zw 18, II Zw 70, III Zw 102, VII Zw 403, Tol 3, Henize 2-10, IC 4662, Mkn 36, Mkn 71, Mkn 178, Mkn 314, Mkn 324, Mkn 600, NGC 1705, NGC 1800, NGC 5253)

Offprint request: P. Papaderos, papade@uni-sw.gwdg.de

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