Dilution in elliptical galaxies: Implications for the relation between metallicity, stellar mass and star formation rate

Robert M. Yates, Guinevere Kauffmann

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We investigate whether gradual dilution of the gas in some elliptical galaxies is the cause of a positive correlation between star formation rate (SFR) and gas-phase metallicity (Zg) at high stellar mass (M*) in the local Universe. To do this, two classes of massive (M* >= 10^10.5 Msun) galaxy are selected from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) and the Munich semi-analytic model of galaxy formation, L-Galaxies. The first class is selected by high specific star formation rates (sSFR) and high Zg, and the second class by low sSFR and low Zg. These criteria roughly distinguish disc-dominant galaxies from metal-poor, elliptical galaxies. In the semi-analytic model, the second class of galaxies obtain low sSFR and low Zg due to gradual dilution of the interstellar medium by accretion of metal-poor gas via infalling clumps and low-mass satellites. This occurs after a merger-induced starburst and the associated supernova feedback have quenched most of the original gas reservoir. A number of signatures of this evolution are present in these model galaxies at z=0, including low gas fractions, large central black holes, elliptical morphologies, old ages, and importantly, low (Zg-Z*) indicating dilution after star formation. Remarkably, all of these properties are also found in low-sSFR, low-Zg, massive galaxies in the SDSS-DR7. This provides strong, indirect evidence that some elliptical galaxies are undergoing gradual dilution after a gas-rich merger in the local Universe. This dilution scenario also explains the positive correlation between SFR and Zg measured in high-M* galaxies, and therefore has consequences for the local fundamental metallicity relation (FMR), which assumes a weak anti-correlation between SFR and Zg above 10^10.5 Msun.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2014


  • astro-ph.CO

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