The recent completion of comprehensive photometric and spectroscopic galaxy surveys has revealed that early-type galaxies form a more heterogeneous family than previously thought. To better understand the star formation histories of early-type galaxies, we have obtained a set of high resolution, high signal-to-noise ratio spectra for a sample of 180 nearby early-type galaxies with the FAST spectrograph and the 1.5m telescope at F. L. Whipple Observatory. The spectra cover the wavelength range 3500 5500 Å which allows the comparison of various Balmer lines, most importantly the higher order lines in the blue, and have a S/N ratio higher than that of previous samples, which makes it easier to investigate the intrinsic spread in the observed parameters. The data set contains galaxies in both the local field and Virgo cluster environment and spans the velocity dispersion range 50 < log σ < 250km s -1. In conjunction with recent improvements in population synthesis modeling, our data set enables us to investigate the star formation history of E/S0 galaxies as a function of mass (σ), environment, and to some extent morphology. We are able to probe the effects of age and metallicity on fundamental observable relations such as the Mg-σ relation, and show that there is a significant spread in age in such diagrams, at all log σ, such that their “uniformity” can not be interpreted as a homogeneous history for early-type galaxies. Analyzing the age and [Fe/H] distribution as a function of the galaxy mass, we find that an age-σ relation exists among galaxies in both the local field and the Virgo cluster, such that the lower log σ galaxies have younger luminosity-weighted mean ages. The age spread of the low σ galaxies suggests that essentially all of the low-mass galaxies contain young to intermediate age populations, whereas the spread in age of the high log σ galaxies (log σ >∼ 2.0) is much larger, with galaxies spanning the age range of 4 19 Gyr. Thus, rather than pointing to all Es and S0s being old, the data show that even the most massive galaxies in our sample span a range of intermediate to old ages.
- Pub Date:
- Physics: Astronomy and Astrophysics