LoCuSS: The steady decline and slow quenching of star formation in cluster galaxies over the last four billion years

C. P. Haines, M. J. Pereira, G. P. Smith, E. Egami, A. J.R. Sanderson, A. Babul, A. Finoguenov, P. Merluzzi, G. Busarello, T. D. Rawle, N. Okabe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

103 Scopus citations


We present an analysis of the levels and evolution of star formation activity in a representative sample of 30 massive galaxy clusters at 0.15 < z < 0.30 from the Local Cluster Substructure Survey, combining wide-field Spitzer/MIPS 24 μm data with extensive spectroscopy of cluster members. The specific SFRs of massive () star-forming cluster galaxies within r 200 are found to be systematically 28% lower than their counterparts in the field at fixed stellar mass and redshift, a difference significant at the 8.7σ level. This is the unambiguous signature of star formation in most (and possibly all) massive star-forming galaxies being slowly quenched upon accretion into massive clusters, their star formation rates (SFRs) declining exponentially on quenching timescales in the range 0.7-2.0 Gyr. We measure the mid-infrared Butcher-Oemler effect over the redshift range 0.0-0.4, finding rapid evolution in the fraction (f SF) of massive (MK <-23.1) cluster galaxies within r 200 with SFRs > 3 M yr-1, of the form f SF(1 + z)7.6 ± 1.1. We dissect the origins of the Butcher-Oemler effect, revealing it to be due to the combination of a 3 × decline in the mean specific SFRs of star-forming cluster galaxies since z 0.3 with a 1.5 × decrease in number density. Two-thirds of this reduction in the specific SFRs of star-forming cluster galaxies is due to the steady cosmic decline in the specific SFRs among those field galaxies accreted into the clusters. The remaining one-third reflects an accelerated decline in the star formation activity of galaxies within clusters. The slow quenching of star formation in cluster galaxies is consistent with a gradual shut down of star formation in infalling spiral galaxies as they interact with the intracluster medium via ram-pressure stripping or starvation mechanisms. The observed sharp decline in star formation activity among cluster galaxies since z 0.4 likely reflects the increased susceptibility of low-redshift spiral galaxies to gas removal mechanisms as their gas surface densities decrease with time. We find no evidence for the build-up of cluster S0 bulges via major nuclear starburst episodes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number126
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 1 2013


  • galaxies: clusters: general
  • galaxies: evolution
  • galaxies: spiral

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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