The relation between metallicity, stellar mass and star formation in galaxies: an analysis of observational and model data

Robert M. Yates, Guinevere Kauffmann, Qi Guo

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Abstract

We study relations between stellar mass, star formation and gas-phase metallicity in a sample of 177,071 unique emission line galaxies from the SDSS-DR7, as well as in a sample of 43,767 star forming galaxies at z=0 from the cosmological semi-analytic model L-GALAXIES. We demonstrate that metallicity is dependent on star formation rate at fixed mass, but that the trend is opposite for low and for high mass galaxies. Low-mass galaxies that are actively forming stars are more metal-poor than quiescent low-mass galaxies. High-mass galaxies, on the other hand, have lower gas-phase metallicities if their star formation rates are small. Remarkably, the same trends are found for our sample of model galaxies. We find that massive model galaxies with low gas-phase metallicities have undergone a gas-rich merger in the past, inducing a starburst which exhausted their cold gas reservoirs and shut down star formation. This led to a gradual dilution in the gas-phase metallicities of these systems via accretion of gas. These model galaxies have lower-than-average gas-to-stellar mass ratios and higher-than-average central black hole masses. We confirm that massive galaxies with low gas-phase metallicities in our observational sample also have very massive black holes. We propose that accretion may therefore play a significant role in regulating the gas-phase metallicities of present-day massive galaxies.
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Volume422
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2012

Keywords

  • astro-ph.CO

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