Direct detections of young stars in nearby elliptical galaxies

H. Alyson Ford, Joel N. Bregman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations

Abstract

Small amounts of star formation in elliptical galaxies are suggested by several results: surprisingly young ages from optical line indices, cooling X-ray gas, and mid-infrared dust emission. Such star formation has previously been difficult to directly detect, but using ultraviolet Hubble Space Telescope Wide Field Camera 3 imaging, we have identified individual young stars and star clusters in four nearby ellipticals. Ongoing star formation is detected in all galaxies, including three ellipticals that have previously exhibited potential signposts of star-forming conditions (NGC 4636, NGC 4697, and NGC 4374), as well as the typical "red and dead" NGC 3379. The current star formation in our closest targets, where we are most complete, is between 2.0 and 9.8 × 10-5 M yr-1. The star formation history was roughly constant from 0.5 to 1.5 Gyr (at (3-5) × 10-4 M yr -1), but decreased by a factor of several in the past 0.3 Gyr. Most star clusters have a mass between 102 and 104 M . The specific star formation rates of ∼10-16 yr-1 (at the present day) or ∼10-14 yr-1 (when averaging over the past Gyr) imply that a fraction 10-8 of the stellar mass is younger than 100 Myr and 10-5 is younger than 1 Gyr, quantifying the level of frosting of recent star formation over the otherwise passive stellar population. There is no obvious correlation between either the presence or spatial distribution of postulated star formation indicators and the star formation we detect.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number137
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Volume770
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 20 2013
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • galaxies: elliptical and lenticular, cD
  • galaxies: star clusters: general
  • galaxies: star formation
  • ultraviolet: galaxies
  • ultraviolet: stars

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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