EDP Sciences
Free access
Volume 494, Number 3, February II 2009
Page(s) 891 - 904
Section Extragalactic astronomy
DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.1051/0004-6361:200810339
Published online 11 December 2008
A&A 494, 891-904 (2009)
DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361:200810339

On the origin of dwarf elliptical galaxies: the fundamental plane

J. A. L. Aguerri1 and A. C. González-García2

1  Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias, Calle via Lactea s/n, 38200 La Laguna, Spain
    e-mail: jalfonso@iac.es
2  Dept. Física Teórica, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, 28049 Madrid, Spain

Received 6 June 2008 / Accepted 7 November 2008

Context. Early-type dwarf (dE) galaxies are the most common type of galaxies observed in the Universe. Their study has important cosmological implications because according to hierarchical galaxy evolution theories they are the progenitors of brighter galaxies. Nevertheless, the origin of this kind of system is still not well understood.
Aims. The aim of the present work is to investigate whether the different locations of dwarf galaxies with respect to ellipticals in the face-on view of the fundamental plane could be due to the transformation of bright disc galaxies in low-mass systems by harassment.
Methods. We have run high-resolution N-body numerical simulations to test the tidal stripping scenario of dE galaxies. The present simulations modelled several individual tidal stripping events in initial disc-like galaxy models with different bulge-to-disc mass ratios.
Results. The models have shown that tidal stripping is a very efficient mechanism for removing stars and dark matter particles from galaxies, specially from their outer parts. The particles of the disc and halo components were easily stripped, while the bulge particles were not. Thus, the scale length of the discs were 40-50% shorter than the initial ones. Prograde tidal interactions create tidal features like stable bars in the discs of the galaxies. In contrast, bars are inhibited in retrograde encounters. After several tidal interactions the galaxy remnants looks like a dwarf spheroidal system. The final position of the low-mass systems in the face-on view of the fundamental plane (FP) depends on the initial conditions of the simulations. Thus, simulated galaxies with initial large B/D ratios are closer to the face-on view of the fundamental plane defined by bright E and bulges of early-type galaxies. Nevertheless, galaxies with initially small B/D ratio are located, after four fast tidal encounters, at the position of dE galaxies in the face-on view of the fundamental plane.The final position of the remnants in the FP do not depend on the orbital configuration of the encounters.
Conclusions. We conclude that fast galaxy-galaxy interactions are efficient mechanisms of transforming bright galaxies into dwarf ones. Indeed, the different location observed between Es and dEs in the face-on view of the fundamental plane can be explained by the formation of dwarf galaxies by harassment of late-type bright ones.

Key words: galaxies: evolution -- galaxies: clusters: general -- galaxies: interactions

© ESO 2009