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2006AJ....132.1074R - Astron. J., 132, 1074-1099 (2006/September-0)

Hubble space telescope STIS spectra of nuclear star clusters in spiral galaxies: dependence of age and mass on Hubble type.


Abstract (from CDS):

We study the nuclear star clusters (NCs) in spiral galaxies of various Hubble types using spectra obtained with the STIS on board the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). We observed the nuclear clusters in 40 galaxies, selected from two previous HST WFPC2 imaging surveys. At a spatial resolution of ∼0".2 the spectra provide a better separation of cluster light from underlying galaxy light than is possible with ground-based spectra. Approximately half of the spectra have a sufficiently high signal-to-noise ratio for detailed stellar population analysis. For the other half we only measure the continuum slope, as quantified by the B-V color. To infer the star formation history, metallicity, and dust extinction, we fit weighted superpositions of single-age stellar population templates to the high signal-to-noise ratio spectra. We use the results to determine the luminosity-weighted age, mass-to-light ratio, and masses of the clusters. Approximately half of the sample clusters contain a population younger than 1 Gyr. The luminosity-weighted ages range from 10 Myr to 10 Gyr. The stellar populations of NCs are generally best fit as a mixture of populations of different ages. This indicates that NCs did not form in a single event, but that instead they had additional star formation long after the oldest stars formed. On average, the sample clusters in late-type spirals have a younger luminosity-weighted mean age than those in early-type spirals (<logτ>L=8.37±0.25 vs. 9.23±0.21). The average mass-weighted ages are older by ∼0.7 dex, indicating that there often is an underlying older population that does not contribute much light but does contain most of the mass. The average cluster masses are smaller in late-type spirals than in early-type spirals (logM=6.25±0.21 vs. 7.63±0.24) and exceed the masses typical of globular clusters. The cluster mass correlates loosely with total galaxy luminosity. It correlates more strongly with both the Hubble type of the host galaxy and the luminosity of its bulge. The latter correlation has the same slope as the well-known correlation between supermassive black hole mass and bulge luminosity. The properties of both nuclear clusters and black holes in the centers of spiral galaxies are therefore intimately connected to the properties of the host galaxy, and in particular its bulge component. Plausible formation scenarios have to account for this. We discuss various possible selection biases in our results, but conclude that none of them can explain the differences seen between clusters in early- and late-type spirals. The inability to infer spectroscopically the populations of faint clusters does introduce a bias toward younger ages, but not necessarily toward higher masses.

Abstract Copyright:

Journal keyword(s): Galaxies: Evolution - Galaxies: Nuclei - Galaxies: Spiral - Galaxies: Star Clusters - Galaxies: Stellar Content

Simbad objects: 46

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