EDP Sciences
Free access
Volume 429, Number 1, January I 2005
Page(s) 141 - 151
Section Extragalactic astronomy
DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.1051/0004-6361:20041909

A&A 429, 141-151 (2005)
DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361:20041909

Structure and star formation in disk galaxies

III. Nuclear and circumnuclear H $\alpha$ emission
J. H. Knapen

Centre for Astrophysics Research, University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, Herts AL10 9AB, UK
    e-mail: j.knapen@star.herts.ac.uk

(Received 26 August 2004 / Accepted 1 September 2004)

From H $\alpha$ images of a carefully selected sample of 57 relatively large, Northern spiral galaxies with low inclination, we study the distribution of the H $\alpha$ emission in the circumnuclear and nuclear regions. At a resolution of around 100 parsec, we find that the nuclear H $\alpha$ emission in the sample galaxies is often peaked, and significantly more often so among AGN host galaxies. The circumnuclear H $\alpha$ emission, within a radius of two kpc, is often patchy in late-type, and absent or in the form of a nuclear ring in early-type galaxies. There is no clear correlation of nuclear or circumnuclear H $\alpha$ morphology with the presence or absence of a bar in the host galaxy, except for the nuclear rings which occur in barred hosts. The presence or absence of close bright companion galaxies does not affect the circumnuclear H $\alpha$ morphology, but their presence does correlate with a higher fraction of nuclear H $\alpha$ peaks. Nuclear rings occur in at least 21% ( $\pm$5%) of spiral galaxies, and occur predominantly in galaxies also hosting an AGN. Only two of our 12 nuclear rings occur in a galaxy which is neither an AGN nor a starburst host. We confirm that weaker bars host larger nuclear rings. The implications of these results on our understanding of the occurrence and morphology of massive star formation, as well as non-stellar activity, in the central regions of galaxies are discussed.

Key words: galaxies: spiral -- galaxies: structure -- galaxies: nuclei

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