Ripples and tails in the compact group of galaxies Hickson 54*
Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía, CSIC, Apdo. Correos 3004, 18080 Granada, Spain Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía, CSIC, Apdo. Correos 3004, 18080 Granada, Spain e-mail: email@example.com Laboratoire d'Astrophysique de Marseille, Traverse du Siphon – Les Trois Lucs, 13376 Marseille, France Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía, CSIC, Apdo. Correos 3004, 18080 Granada, Spain e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía, CSIC, Apdo. Correos 3004, 18080 Granada, Spain e-mail: email@example.com Astronomy Department, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA 01003, USA e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie, Auf dem Hügel 69, 53121 Bonn, Germany e-mail: email@example.com
Corresponding author: L. Verdes-Montenegro, firstname.lastname@example.org
Accepted: 25 September 2002
HCG 54 has been classified as a compact galaxy group by Hickson, but its nature is uncertain because of its unusual properties. We present here a study of HCG 54 based on deep optical images and spectroscopy as well as high spatial and spectral resolution HI observations obtained at the VLA. Both optical and radio data indicate clearly that HCG 54 is a product of a recent merger involving at least two galaxies. Our optical images have revealed a blue elongated structure associated with HCG 54a embedded in a rounder and redder stellar envelope. Several ripples or shells whose center is located near HCG 54a and b are also detected. These observed features are similar to those found in the numerical simulations of tidal interactions involving two equal mass disk galaxies. This system is embedded in an HI cloud 12 kpc in diameter, and a 20 kpc HI tidal tail emerges from its western edge. Both the HI distribution and kinematics are consistent with a recent history of a deeply penetrating interaction or a merger. Based on the analysis of our new data we propose that HCG 54 is the remnant of a merger in an advanced stage, whose main body is what has been called HCG 54a, while HCG 54b marks the location of a strong starburst induced by the interaction, as evidenced by the Wolf Rayet stellar population that we detect. Optical spectra of HCG 54c and d show HII region features and are interpreted as tidal debris of the collision undergoing active star formation.
Key words: galaxies: interactions / galaxies: kinematics and dynamics / galaxies: evolution / galaxies: structure / radio lines: galaxies / galaxies: individual: HCG 54
Based on observations made with the VLA operated by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (the National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc.) and on data taken using ALFOSC, which is owned by the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía (IAA) and operated at the Nordic Optical Telescope under agreement between IAA and the NBIfA of the Astronomical Observatory of Copenhagen.
© ESO, 2002