The Stellar Populations and Evolution of Virgo Cluster Galaxies

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Roediger, Joel C.
Extragalactic Astronomy , Galaxy Evolution , Stellar Content , Star Formation Histories , Chemical Evolution , Galaxy Clusters
Using a combination of optical and near-infrared photometry, we have studied both the resolved and integrated stellar populations for a sample of Virgo cluster galaxies spanning the full range of galaxian parameters. The derived stellar population properties are compared against galaxy structural and environmental measures to gauge the importance of these factors in establishing galaxy star formation histories and chemical evolution. Although galaxy colours do not uniquely probe a galaxy's star formation history, meaningful results may be obtained if considered in a relative sense. We find that colour profiles reflect variations in both stellar age and metallicity within galaxies. We also uncover systematic variations in colour gradients, and thus age/metallicity gradients, along the Hubble sequence, such that age and metallicity gradients become increasingly negative toward later Hubble types. However, only weak correlations exist between galaxies' stellar populations and their structure and environment. The correlations we find suggest that the star formation histories of gas-rich galaxies are strongly influenced by gas removal within the cluster, while their chemical evolution is due to a combination of stellar mass-dependent enrichment and outflow retention. The assembly of gas-poor giant galaxies is consistent with a hierarchical scenario wherein gas-rich mergers dominate by number. Gas-poor dwarfs differ from the giants, however, appearing as the product of environmentally-driven evolution. Spiral galaxies bridge the dwarf-giant gap, whereby merging and gas-stripping signatures are imprinted in their stars. Early-type spirals seem to have fallen into the cluster sooner than the later types, thereby ceasing star formation in their disks at earlier epochs. The bulges of both types, however, appear to have grown via merging. The nature of this merging (minor versus major) remains unknown. Irregular galaxies exhibit signs of a recent gravitational encounter that has redistributed both their stars and gas, the latter of which caused recent star formation.
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