Thesis Open Access
Rodriguez Del Pino, Bruno
Aragon-Salamanca, Alfonso; Bamford, Steven P.; Balcells, Marc
This thesis explores the properties of galaxies that reside in regions of high density and the influence of the environment in their evolution. In particular, it aims to shed more light on the understanding of how galaxies stop forming stars, becoming passive objects, and the role played by environment in this process. The work presented here includes the study of the properties of galaxies in clusters at two different stages of their evolution: we first look at cluster galaxies that have recently stopped forming stars, and then we investigate the influence of environment on galaxies while they are still forming stars.
The first study is based on Integral Field Spectroscopic (IFS) observations of a sample of disk `k+a' galaxies in a cluster at z~0.3. The `k+a' spectral feature imply a recent suppression of star formation in the galaxies, and therefore the study of their properties is crucial to understanding how the suppression happened. We study the kinematics and spatial distributions of the different stellar populations inhabiting these galaxies. We found that the last stars that were formed (i.e., younger stars) are rotationally-supported and behave similar to the older stars. Moreover, the spatial distribution of the young stars also resembles that of the older stellar populations, although the young stars tend to be more concentrated towards the central regions of the galaxies. These findings indicate that the process responsible for the suppression of the star formation in the cluster disk galaxies had to be gentle, withouth perturbing significantly the old stellar disks. However, a significant number of galaxies with centrally-concentrated young populations were found to have close companions, therefore implying that galaxy-galaxy interactions might also contribute to the cessation of the star formation. These results provide very valuable information on the putative transformation of star-forming galaxies into passive S0s.
We then move to the study of the star formation properties and nuclear activity in galaxies in a multi-cluster system at z~0.165. We employ Tuneable Filter observations to map the Halpha and N[II] emission lines. We show the feasibility and advantages of using these type of observations to map emission lines in a large number of objects at a single redshift, and developed a procedure for the reduction and analysis of the data. We find a large number of optical AGN that were not previously detected as X-ray point sources. The probability that a galaxy hosts an AGN is not found to correlate with environment. From the analysis of the integrated star formation properties of the galaxies in the multi-cluster system we observe a significant number of galaxies with suppressed star formation with respect to the field. Although stellar mass is the main driver of the suppression of star formation, once its effect is removed, we find that galaxies in the core regions have reduced specific star formation rates (SSFRs) with respect to the infall regions. Moreover, the environment influences galaxies differently depending on their stellar mass. Galaxies with low masses experience a change in morphology (from irregulars and spirals to early-types) and colour (blue to red) as they fall into regions of higher density. However, many massive spiral galaxies retain their disk morphologies and the visibility of their spiral arms all the way to the core regions. Before becoming passive, these galaxies experience a phase exhibiting red colours and relatively high SSFRs. A significant fraction of the spiral galaxies with relatively high masses go through this phase, which could represent the transition towards becoming S0s.
We finish by presenting some interesting results on the spatial distribution of the emission-line regions in the cluster galaxies. We develop a method to create emission-line images, which successfully preserves the flux within the emission lines. Our analysis on the concentrations and sizes of the star-forming regions shows that the star-forming regions of cluster galaxies are generally more concentrated than the underlying stellar populations. However, we find no differences in the spatial distribution of the star formation between galaxies in the infall and in the core regions, but the star formation is more concentrated than in the field galaxies studied in previous works. These results imply that the process responsible for the concentration or truncation of the star formation in the galaxies took place before entering the multi-cluster system of our study.