The formation pathways of compact elliptical galaxies

Simon Deeley, Michael J. Drinkwater, Sarah M. Sweet, Kenji Bekki, Warrick J. Couch, Duncan A. Forbes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Compact elliptical (cE) galaxies remain an elusively difficult galaxy class to study. Recent observations have suggested that isolated and host-associated cEs have different formation pathways, while simulation studies have also shown different pathways can lead to a cE galaxy. However, a solid link has not been established, and the relative contributions of each pathway in a cosmological context remains unknown. Here, we combine a spatially resolved observational sample of cEs taken from the Sydney-AAO Multi-object Integral field spectrograph Galaxy Survey with a matched sample of galaxies within the IllustrisTNG cosmological simulation to establish an overall picture of how these galaxies form. The observed cEs located near a host galaxy appear redder, smaller, and older than isolated cEs, supporting previous evidence for multiple formation pathways. Tracing the simulated cEs back through time, we find two main formation pathways; 32 ± 5 per cent formed via the stripping of a spiral galaxy by a larger host galaxy, while 68 ± 4 per cent formed through a gradual build-up of stellar mass in isolated environments. We confirm that cEs in different environments do indeed form via different pathways, with all isolated cEs in our sample having formed via in situ formation (i.e. none were ejected from a previous host), and 77 ± 6 per cent of host-associated cEs having formed via tidal stripping. Separating them by their formation pathway, we are able to reproduce the observed differences between isolated and host-associated cEs, showing that these differences can be fully explained by the different formation pathways dominating in each environment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1192-1209
Number of pages18
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Volume525
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2023

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