History and destiny of an emerging early-type galaxy
New IFU insights on the major-merger remnant NGC 7252
SUPA, School of Physics and Astronomy, University of St Andrews,
2 Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie, Königstuhl 17, 69117 Heidelberg, Germany
3 European Southern Observatory, Karl-Schwarzschild-Strasse 2, 85748 Garching, Germany
4 University of California Observatories, 1156 High Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95064, USA
5 Laboratoire AIM Paris-Saclay, CEA/IRFU/SAp, Université Paris Diderot, 91191 Gif-sur-Yvette Cedex, France
6 Université de Strasbourg, CNRS, Observatoire Astronomique de Strasbourg, UMR 7550, 67000 Strasbourg, France
7 Université Paris Diderot, AIM, Sorbonne Paris Cité, CEA, CNRS, 91191 Gif sur Yvette, France
8 Observatoire de Lyon, Centre de Recherche Astrophysique de Lyon and Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon, Université Lyon 1, 9 Avenue Charles André, 69230 Saint-Genis Laval, France
9 Leibniz-Institut für Astrophysik Potsdam (AIP), An der Sternwarte 16, 14482 Potsdam, Germany
10 Department of Physics and Astronomy, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW 2109, Australia
11 Australian Astronomical Observatory, PO Box 915, Sydney, NSW 1670, Australia
Accepted: 23 January 2018
Context. The merging of galaxies is one key aspect in our favourite hierarchical ΛCDM Universe and is an important channel leading to massive quiescent elliptical galaxies. Understanding this complex transformational process is ongoing.
Aims. We aim to study NGC 7252, which is one of the nearest major-merger galaxy remnants, observed ~1 Gyr after the collision of presumably two gas-rich disc galaxies. It is therefore an ideal laboratory to study the processes inherent to the transformation of disc galaxies to ellipticals.
Methods. We obtained wide-field IFU spectroscopy with the VLT-VIMOS integral-field spectrograph covering the central 50′′ × 50′′ of NGC 7252 to map the stellar and ionised gas kinematics, and the distribution and conditions of the ionised gas, revealing the extent of ongoing star formation and recent star formation history.
Results. Contrary to previous studies, we find the inner gas disc not to be counter-rotating with respect to the stars. In addition, the stellar kinematics appear complex with a clear indication of a prolate-like rotation component which suggests a polar merger configuration. The ongoing star formation rate is 2.2 ± 0.6 M⊙ yr−1 and implies a typical depletion time of ~2 Gyr given the molecular gas content. Furthermore, the spatially resolved star formation history suggests a slight radial dependence, moving outwards at later times. We confirm a large AGN-ionised gas cloud previously discovered ~5 kpc south of the nucleus, and find a higher ionisation state of the ionised gas at the galaxy centre relative to the surrounding gas disc. Although the higher ionisation towards the centre is potentially degenerate within the central star forming ring, it may be associated with a low-luminosity AGN.
Conclusions. Although NGC 7252 has been classified as post-starburst galaxy at the centre, the elliptical-like major-merger remnant still appears very active. A central kpc-scale gas disc has presumably re-formed quickly within the last 100 Myr after final coalescence. The disc features ongoing star formation, implying Gyr long timescale to reach the red sequence through gas consumption alone. While NGC 7252 is useful to probe the transformation from discs to ellipticals, it is not well-suited to study the transformation from blue to red at this point.
Key words: galaxies: individual: NGC 7252 / galaxies: elliptical and lenticular, cD / galaxies: formation / galaxies: interactions
© ESO 2018