University of Oulu

Understanding the formation and evolution of disc break features in galaxies

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Author: Laine, Jarkko1
Organizations: 1University of Oulu, Faculty of Science, Astronomy
Format: ebook
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 7.2 MB)
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Language: English
Published: 2016
Publish Date: 2016-09-12
Thesis type: Doctoral Dissertation
Defence Note: Academic Dissertation to be presented with the assent of the Faculty of Science, University of Oulu, for public discussion in the Auditorium GO101, on September 16th, 2016, at 12 o’clock.
Tutor: Docent Eija Laurikainen
Professor Heikki Salo
Reviewer: Professor Jari Kotilainen
Doctor Ruymán Azzollini
Opponent: Professor John Beckman
Kustos: Docent Eija Laurikainen


The discs in galaxies are radially extended, rotationally supported, flattened systems. In the cosmological Lambda Cold Dark Matter model the formation of the discs is intimately connected with galaxy formation. Generally it is assumed that the discs have exponentially decreasing stellar surface brightness profiles, but completely satisfactory theoretical explanation for this has not been presented. Large number of studies in the past decade have challenged this view, and have found a change in the slope of the surface brightness profile in the outer regions of many galaxies discs: the surface brightness can decrease more, or less, steeply than in the inner regions. The transition between the two slopes is often called a disc break. Consequently, the discs are divided in three major categories: single exponential Type I, down-bending break Type II, and up-bending break Type III. Formation of these break features has been linked to the initial formation of the discs, internal evolution, and also with the interactions between galaxies. By studying the detailed properties of the disc break features, the evolutionary history of discs, and galaxies in general, can be better understood.

The thesis work focuses on the structural analysis of the galaxies in the Spitzer Survey of Stellar Structure in Galaxies (S4G), which consists of 2352 galaxies observed in the 3.6 and 4.5 µm mid-infrared wavelengths with the Spitzer space telescope. Work has been carried out as a part of the data-analysis pipelines of the S4G survey, utilizing surface photometry. In addition, special emphasis has been put on the study of the disc and disc break properties in a wide range of galaxy morphological types and stellar masses. The thesis work attempts to at least partially understand how galaxy stellar mass and observed wavelength affect the properties of the discs and breaks, and how galaxy structural components are connected with the breaks.

The data comprises mainly of the 3.6 µm infrared data, providing a view to the stellar mass distribution of galaxies. We find that the Type II breaks are the most common disc profile type, found in 45 ± 2% of the sample galaxies, consisting of 759 galaxies in the stellar mass range 8.5 ≲ log10(M*/M) ≲ 11. Type I discs are found in 31 ± 2%, and the Type III breaks in 23 ± 2% of the sample. The fraction of the profile types also depends of the galaxy stellar mass: fractions of the Types II and III increase, while Type I fraction decreases, with increasing stellar mass. We attribute these changes with stellar mass to the increased frequency of bar resonance structures in higher mass galaxies, which are commonly associated with a Type II break, and to the increased fraction of Type III profiles in generally more massive early-type disc galaxies. In addition to the Type II breaks associated with bar resonance structures, we find that nearly half of these breaks relate to the visual spiral outer edge, confirming previous results of the Type II break connection with galaxy structure, and thus the internal evolution rather than initial formation of discs.

Complementary data in optical wavelengths from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey shows a strong change in the properties of the discs inside the Type II breaks, indicating that the inner discs are evolving via star formation. In late-type spiral galaxies (T ≳ 4) with a Type II break, possible evidence of radial stellar migration is found in the outer disc: the slope of the surface brightness profile is shallower in the infrared compared to optical wavelengths, indicating that older stellar populations are more evenly spread throughout the disc. Formation of the Type I and III profiles remain poorly understood. However, indication that some of the Type III profiles are formed by environmentally driven processes is found, with a correlation between the properties of the local environment and the disc profile parameters. Furthermore, indication of star formation possibly causing the up-bends in spiral galaxies is found through a presence of young stellar population in the outer disc section.

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Series: Report series in physical sciences
ISSN: 1239-4327
ISSN-L: 1239-4327
ISBN: 978-952-62-1304-0
ISBN Print: 978-952-62-1303-3
Issue: 101
Copyright information: © University of Oulu, 2016. This publication is copyrighted. You may download, display and print it for your own personal use. Commercial use is prohibited.