EDP Sciences
Free Access
Volume 405, Number 1, July I 2003
Page(s) 31 - 52
Section Galactic structure and dynamics
DOI https://doi.org/10.1051/0004-6361:20030542
Published online 16 June 2003

A&A 405, 31-52 (2003)
DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361:20030542

Galaxy interactions - poor starburst triggers

III. A study of a complete sample of interacting galaxies
N. Bergvall1, E. Laurikainen2 and S. Aalto3

1  Dept. of Astronomy and Space Physics, Box 515, 751 20 Uppsala, Sweden
    e-mail: nils.bergvall@astro.uu.se
2  Division of Astronomy, Dept. of Physical Sciences, University of Oulu, 90570 Oulu, Finland
    e-mail: eija@sun3.oulu.fi
3  Onsala Space Observatory, 439 92 Onsala, Sweden
    e-mail: susanne@oso.chalmers.se

(Received 22 October 2001 / Accepted 6 April 2003)

We report on a study of tidally triggered star formation in galaxies based on spectroscopic/photometric observations in the optical/near-IR of a magnitude limited sample of 59 systems of interacting and merging galaxies and a comparison sample of 38 normal isolated galaxies. From a statistical point of view the sample gives us a unique opportunity to trace the effects of tidally induced star formation. In contrast to results from previous investigations, our global  UBV colours do not support a significant enhancement of starforming activity in the interacting/merging galaxies. We also show that, contrary to previous claims, there is no significantly increased scatter in the colours of Arp galaxies as compared to normal galaxies. We do find support for moderate (a factor of ~2-3) increase in star formation in the very centres of the interacting galaxies of our sample, contributing marginally to the total luminosity. The interacting and in particular the merging galaxies are characterized by increased far infrared (hereafter FIR) luminosities and temperatures that weakly correlate with the central activity. The $L_{\rm FIR}$/ LB ratio however, is remarkably similar in the two samples, indicating that true starbursts normally are not hiding in the central regions of the FIR luminous cases. The gas mass-to-luminosity ratio in optical-IR is practically independent of luminosity, lending further support to the paucity of true massive starburst galaxies triggered by interactions/mergers. We estimate the frequency of such cases to be of the order of ~0.1% of the galaxies in an apparent magnitude limited sample. Our conclusion is that interacting and merging galaxies, from the global star formation aspect, generally do not differ dramatically from scaled up versions of normal, isolated galaxies. No drastic change with redshift is expected. One consequence is that galaxy formation probably continued over a long period of time and did not peak at a specific redshift. The effects of massive starbursts, like blowouts caused by superwinds and cosmic reionization caused by starburst populations would also be less important than what is normally assumed.

Key words: galaxies: interactions -- galaxies: evolution -- galaxies: starburst -- galaxies: halos -- galaxies: stellar content

Offprint request: N. Bergvall, nils.bergvall@astro.uu.se

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© ESO 2003

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