Volume 592, August 2016
|Number of page(s)||22|
|Published online||05 July 2016|
Inferring the star-formation histories of the most massive and passive early-type galaxies at z < 0.3
1 Dipartimento di Fisica e Astronomia, Università di Bologna, Viale Berti Pichat 6/2, 40127 Bologna, Italy
2 INAF–Osservatorio Astronomico di Bologna, via Ranzani 1, 40127 Bologna, Italy
Received: 17 November 2015
Accepted: 24 April 2016
Context. In the Λ cold dark matter (ΛCDM) cosmological framework, massive galaxies are the end-points of the hierarchical evolution and are therefore key probes for understanding how the baryonic matter evolves within the dark matter halos.
Aims. The aim of this work is to use the archaeological approach in order to infer the stellar population properties and star formation histories of the most massive (M > 1010.75 M⊙) and passive early-type galaxies (ETGs) at 0 < z < 0.3 (corresponding to a cosmic time interval of ~3.3 Gyr) based on stacked, high signal-to-noise (S/N), spectra extracted from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS). Our study is focused on the most passive ETGs in order to avoid the contamination of galaxies with residual star formation activity and extract the evolutionary information on the oldest envelope of the global galaxy population.
Methods. Unlike most previous studies in this field, we did not rely on individual absorption features such as the Lick indices, but we used the information present in the full spectrum with the STARLIGHT public code, adopting different stellar population synthesis models. Successful tests have been performed to assess the reliability of STARLIGHT to retrieve the evolutionary properties of the ETG stellar populations such as the age, metallicity and star formation history. The results indicate that these properties can be derived with accuracy better than 10% at S/N ≳ 10–20, and also that the procedure of stacking galaxy spectra does not introduce significant biases into their retrieval.
Results. Based on our spectral analysis, we found that the ETGs of our sample are very old systems – the most massive ones are almost as old as the Universe. The stellar metallicities are slightly supersolar, with a mean of Z ~ 0.027 ± 0.002 and Z ~ 0.029 ± 0.0015 (depending on the spectral synthesis models used for the fit) and do not depend on redshift. Dust extinction is very low, with a mean of AV ~ 0.08 ± 0.030 mag and AV ~ 0.16 ± 0.048 mag. The ETGs show an anti-hierarchical evolution (downsizing) where more massive galaxies are older. The SFHs can be approximated with a parametric function of the form SFR(t) ∝ τ− (c + 1)tc exp(−t/τ), with typical short e-folding times of τ ~ 0.6−0.8 Gyr (with a dispersion of ±0.1 Gyr) and c ~ 0.1 (with a dispersion of ±0.05). Based on the reconstructed SFHs, most of the stellar mass (≳75%) was assembled by z ~ 5 and ≲4% of it can be ascribed to stellar populations younger than ~1 Gyr. The inferred SFHs are also used to place constraints on the properties and evolution of the ETG progenitors. In particular, the ETGs of our samples should have formed most stars through a phase of vigorous star formation (SFRs ≳ 350–400 M⊙ yr-1) at z ≳ 4−5 and are quiescent by z ~ 1.5−2. The expected number density of ETG progenitors, their SFRs and contribution to the star formation rate density of the Universe, the location on the star formation main sequence and the required existence of massive quiescent galaxies at z ≲ 2, are compatible with the current observations, although the uncertainties are still large.
Conclusions. Our results represent an attempt to demonstrate quantitatively the evolutionary link between the most massive ETGs at z < 0.3 and the properties of suitable progenitors at high redshifts. Our results also shows that the full-spectrum fitting is a powerful and complementary approach to reconstruct the star formation histories of massive quiescent galaxies.
Key words: galaxies: evolution / galaxies: formation / galaxies: stellar content
© ESO, 2016
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