Modeling the red sequence: Hierarchical growth yet slow luminosity evolution

Rosalind E. Skelton, Eric F. Bell, Rachel S. Somerville

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19 Scopus citations


We explore the effects of mergers on the evolution of massive early-type galaxies by modeling the evolution of their stellar populations in a hierarchical context. We investigate how a realistic red sequence population set up by z 1 evolves under different assumptions for the merger and star formation histories, comparing changes in color, luminosity, and mass. The purely passive fading of existing red sequence galaxies, with no further mergers or star formation, results in dramatic changes at the bright end of the luminosity function and color-magnitude relation. Without mergers there is too much evolution in luminosity at a fixed space density compared to observations. The change in color and magnitude at a fixed mass resembles that of a passively evolving population that formed relatively recently, at z ∼ 2. Mergers among the red sequence population ("dry mergers") occurring after z = 1 build up mass, counteracting the fading of the existing stellar populations to give smaller changes in both color and luminosity for massive galaxies. By allowing some galaxies to migrate from the blue cloud onto the red sequence after z = 1 through gas-rich mergers, younger stellar populations are added to the red sequence. This manifestation of the progenitor bias increases the scatter in age and results in even smaller changes in color and luminosity between z = 1 and z = 0 at a fixed mass. The resultant evolution appears much slower, resembling the passive evolution of a population that formed at high redshift (z ∼ 3-5), and is in closer agreement with observations. We conclude that measurements of the luminosity and color evolution alone are not sufficient to distinguish between the purely passive evolution of an old population and cosmologically motivated hierarchical growth, although these scenarios have very different implications for the mass growth of early-type galaxies over the last half of cosmic history.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number44
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • galaxies: elliptical and lenticular, cD
  • galaxies: evolution
  • galaxies: general
  • galaxies: interactions
  • galaxies: luminosity function, mass function


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