Context: Shells in Elliptical Galaxies are faint, sharp-edged features, believed to provide evidence for a merger event. Accurate photometry at high spatial resolution is needed to learn on presence of inner shells, population properties of shells, and dust in shell galaxies.
Aims: Learn more about the origin of shells and dust in early type galaxies.
Methods: V-I colours of shells and underlying galaxies are derived, using HST Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) data. A galaxy model is made locally in wedges and subtracted to determine shell profiles and colours. We applied Voronoi binning to our data to get smoothed colour maps of the galaxies. Comparison with N-body simulations from the literature gives more insight to the origin of the shell features. Shell positions and dust characteristics are inferred from model galaxy subtracted images.
Results: The ACS images reveal shells well within the effective radius in some galaxies (at 0.24 re = 1.7 kpc in the case of NGC 5982). In some cases, strong nuclear dust patches prevent detection of inner shells. Most shells have colours which are similar to the underlying galaxy. Some inner shells are redder than the galaxy. All six shell galaxies show out of dynamical equilibrium dust features, like lanes or patches, in their central regions. Our detection rate for dust in the shell ellipticals is greater than that found from HST archive data for a sample of normal early-type galaxies, at the 95% confidence level.
Conclusions: The merger model describes better the shell distributions and morphologies than the interaction model. Red shell colours are most likely due to the presence of dust and/or older stellar populations. The high prevalence and out of dynamical equilibrium morphologies of the central dust features point towards external influences being responsible for visible dust features in early type shell galaxies. Inner shells are able to manifest themselves in relatively old shell systems.