Volume 589, May 2016
|Number of page(s)||21|
|Published online||11 April 2016|
Observational evidence of a slow downfall of star formation efficiency in massive galaxies during the past 10 Gyr
Laboratoire AIM-Paris-Saclay, CEA/DSM/Irfu−CNRS−</inline-formula>
Université Paris Diderot, CEA-Saclay,
pt courrier 131,
2 Leiden Observatory, Leiden University, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands
3 Institut d’Astrophysique de Paris, UMR 7095, CNRS, UPMC Université Paris 06, 98bis boulevard Arago, 75014 Paris, France
4 University of Crete, Department of Physics, 71003 Heraklion, Greece
5 Institute for Astronomy, Astrophysics, Space Applications and Remote Sensing, National Observatory of Athens, 15236 Penteli, Greece
6 School of Astronomy and Space Sciences, Nanjing University, 210093 Nanjing, PR China
7 Space Telescope Science Institute, 3700 San Martin Drive, Baltimore, MD 21218, USA
8 NASA Postdoctoral Program Fellow, Goddard Space Flight Center, Code 665, Greenbelt, MD 20771, USA
9 Max-Planck-Institut für Extraterrestrische Physik, Giessenbachstrasse 1, 85748 Garching, Germany
Received: 16 August 2015
Accepted: 21 January 2016
We study the causes of the reported mass-dependence in the slope of the SFR−M∗ relation, the so-called main sequence of star-forming galaxies, and discuss its implication on the physical processes that shaped the star formation history of massive galaxies over cosmic time. We made use of the near-infrared high-resolution imaging from the Hubble Space Telescope in the CANDELS fields to perform a careful bulge-to-disk decomposition of distant galaxies and measure for the first time the slope of the SFR−Mdisk relation at z = 1. We find that this relation very closely follows the shape of the nominal SFR−M∗ correlation, still with a pronounced flattening at the high-mass end. This clearly excludes, at least at z = 1, the progressive growth of quiescent stellar bulges in star-forming galaxies as the main driver for the change of slope of the main sequence. Then, by stacking the Herschel data available in the CANDELS field, we estimated the gas mass (Mgas = MH i + MH2) and the star formation efficiency (SFE ≡ SFR/Mgas) at different positions on the SFR−M∗ relation. We find that the relatively low SFRs observed in massive galaxies (M∗> 5 × 1010 M⊙) are not caused by a reduced gas content, but by a star formation efficiency that is lower by up to a factor of 3 than in galaxies with lower stellar mass. The trend at the lowest masses is probably linked to the dominance of atomic over molecular gas. We argue that this stellar-mass-dependent SFE can explain the varying slope of the main sequence since z = 1.5, hence over 70% of the Hubble time. The drop in SFE occurs at lower masses in the local Universe (M∗> 2 × 1010 M⊙) and is not present at z = 2. Altogether, this provides evidence for a slow decrease in star formation efficiency in massive main sequence galaxies. The resulting loss of star formation is found to be rising starting from z = 2 to reach a level similar to the mass growth of the quiescent population by z = 1. We finally discuss the possible physical origin of this phenomenon.
Key words: galaxies: evolution / galaxies: bulges / galaxies: star formation / galaxies: statistics / infrared: galaxies
© ESO, 2016
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