Star formation exists in all early-type galaxies -- evidence from ubiquitous structure in UV images

Divya Pandey, Sugata Kaviraj, Kanak Saha, Saurabh Sharma

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Recent surveys have demonstrated the widespread presence of UV emission in early-type (elliptical/S0) galaxies, suggesting the presence of star formation in many of these systems. However, potential UV contributions from old and young stars, together with model uncertainties, makes it challenging to confirm the presence of young stars using integrated photometry alone. This is particularly true in ETGs that are fainter in the UV and have red UV-optical colours. An unambiguous way of disentangling the source of the UV is to look for structure in UV images. Optical images of ETGs, which are dominated by old stars, are smooth and devoid of structure. If the UV is also produced by these old stars, then the UV images will share this smoothness, while, if driven by young stars, they will exhibit significant structure. We compare the UV and optical morphologies of 32 ETGs (93 percent of which are at $z<0.03$) using quantitative parameters (concentration, asymmetry, clumpiness and the Sérsic index), calculated via deep UV and optical images with similar resolution. Regardless of stellar mass, UV-optical colour or the presence of interactions, the asymmetry and clumpiness of ETGs is significantly (often several orders of magnitudes) larger in the UV than in the optical, while the UV Sérsic indices are typically lower than their optical counterparts. The ubiquitous presence of structure demonstrates that the UV flux across our entire ETG sample is dominated by young stars and indicates that star formation exists in all ETGs in the nearby Universe.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberstae1296
Pages (from-to)2223–2236
Number of pages14
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Early online date20 May 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 20 May 2024


  • astro-ph.GA


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