Globular cluster system erosion in elliptical galaxies
Dep. of Physics, Sapienza, University of Roma, P.le A. Moro 5, 00185, Roma, Italy e-mail: [roberto.capuzzodolcetta;alessandra.mastrobuonobattisti]@uniroma1.it
Accepted: 5 August 2009
Context. We analyse data of 8 elliptical galaxies to study the difference between the radial distributions of their globular cluster systems (GCSs) and their galactic stellar component. In all galaxies studied, the GCS density profile is significantly flatter towards the galactic centre than that of the stars.
Aims. A flatter profile of the radial distribution of the GCS with respect to that of the galactic stellar component is a difference with astrophysical relevance. A quantitative comparative analysis of the profiles may provide insight into both galaxy and globular cluster formation and evolution. If the difference is caused by erosion of the GCS, the missing GCs in the galactic central region may have merged around the galactic centre and formed, or at least increased in mass, the galactic nucleus. Observational support to this are the correlations between the galaxy integrated absolute magnitude and the number of globular clusters lost and that between the central massive black hole mass and the total mass of globular clusters lost.
Methods. We fitted both the stellar and globular cluster system radial profiles of a set of galaxies observed at high resolution. We found that the GCS profile is less sharply peaked at the galactic centre than the stellar one. Assuming that this difference is caused by GCS evolution, starting from a radial distribution initially indistinguishable from that of stars, we can evaluate by a simple normalization procedure the number (and mass) of GCs that have “disappeared”.
Results. The number of missing globular clusters is significant, ranging from 21% to 71% of their initial population abundance in the eight galaxies examined. The corresponding mass lost to the central galactic region is (for every galaxy of the sample) in the 2.77 107–1.58 109 interval. All the transported mass towards the central galactic regions have had probably an important effect on the innermost galactic zone, including its violent transient activity (AGN) and local massive black hole formation and growth.
Key words: galaxies: general / galaxies: elliptical and lenticular, cD / galaxies: evolution / galaxies: star clusters / galaxies: nuclei
© ESO, 2009