E/S0 galaxies on the blue color-stellar mass sequence at z = 0: Fading mergers or future spirals?

Sheila J. Kannappan, Jocelly M. Guie, Andrew J. Baker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

131 Scopus citations


We identify a population of morphologically defined E/S0 galaxies lying on the locus of late-type galaxies in color-stellar mass space - the "blue sequence" - at the present epoch. Using three samples (from the Nearby Field Galaxy Survey or NFGS, a merged HyperLeda/Sloan Digital Sky Survey/Two Micron All Sky Survey catalog, and the NYU Value-Added Galaxy Catalog), we analyze blue-sequence E/S0s with stellar masses ≳108 M, arguing that individual objects may be evolving either up toward the red sequence or down into the blue sequence. Blue-sequence E/S0 galaxies become more common with decreasing stellar mass, comprising ≲2% of E/S0s near the "shutdown mass" Ms 1-2 × 1011M, increasing to ≳5% near the "bimodality mass" Mb 3 × 1010M, and sharply rising to ≳ 20%-30% below the "threshold mass" M t 4-6 × 109M, down to our completeness analysis limit at 109M. The strong emergence of blue-sequence E/S0s below Mt coincides with a previously reported global increase in mean atomic gas fractions below Mt for galaxies of all types on both sequences, suggesting that the availability of cold gas may be basic to blue-sequence E/S0s' existence. Environmental analysis reveals that many sub-Mb blue-sequence E/S0s reside in low-to-intermediate density environments. Thus, the bulk of the population we analyze appears distinct from the generally lower-mass cluster dE population; S0 morphologies with a range of bulge sizes are typical. In mass-radius and mass-σ scaling relations, blue-sequence E/S0s are more similar to red-sequence E/S0s than to late-type galaxies, but they represent a transitional class. While some of them, especially in the high-mass range from Mb to Ms , resemble major-merger remnants that will likely fade onto the red sequence, most blue-sequence E/S0s below Mb show signs of disk and/or pseudobulge building, which may be enhanced by companion interactions. The blue overall colors of blue-sequence E/S0s are most clearly linked to blue outer disks, but also reflect blue centers and more frequent blue-centered color gradients than seen in red-sequence E/S0s. Notably, all E/S0s in the NFGS with polar or counterrotating gas lie on or near the blue sequence, and most of these systems show signs of secondary stellar disks forming in the decoupled gas. From star formation rates and gas fractions, we infer significant recent and ongoing morphological transformation in the blue-sequence E/S0 population, especially below Mb . We argue that sub-Mb blue-sequence E/S0s occupy a "sweet spot" in stellar mass and concentration, with both abundant gas and optimally efficient star formation, which may enable the formation of large spiral disks. Our results provide evidence for the importance of disk rebuilding after mergers, as predicted by hierarchical models of galaxy formation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)579-597
Number of pages19
JournalAstronomical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • CD galaxies
  • Elliptical and lenticular
  • Evolution
  • Galaxies


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